The Eastern Conference best-of-5 Qualifying Round finally kicks off in Toronto, as the 5th-placed Pittsburgh Penguins take on the 12th-placed Montreal Canadiens.
Habs Start As WorstOut of all teams participating in the postseason this year, the Montreal Canadiens are entering the competition as the worst one, finishing the regular campaign 24th in the whole league with a 31-31-9 record, a .500 points percentage and a minus-9 goal differential. The team ended up 5th in the Atlantic Division prior to the lockdown and was riding a three-game losing run (0-3-0), having dropped decisions against the Tampa Bay Lightning (4-0), Florida Panthers (4-1) and Nashville Predators (4-2). Tomas Tatar leads the Habs with 61 regular-season points this year, topping Montreal’s goalscoring chart with 22 markers alongside Brendan Gallagher (43 points).
Following 58 starts so far this season, goalie Carey Price has amassed a 27-25-6 record for the 2019-20 campaign with a 2.79 GAA and a .909 save percentage. He has picked up a 13-14-5 past tally against the Pittsburgh Penguins with a 2.95 GAA and a .907 save percentage. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, the Habs were netting the 13th lowest quantity of goals per game (2.93), while giving up the 11th highest amount defensively (3.10). They were 22nd in power play (17.7%) and 19th in penalty kill (78.7%).
Pens Miss Out On Top FourA 5th-place finish in the Eastern Conference and a 3rd-place position in the Metropolitan Division sees the Pittsburgh Penguins (40-23-6) miss out on a top-four placement in the new postseason format just by three points. The team ended the regular campaign with a 5-2 road victory over the New Jersey Devils, thus stopping a two-game skid (0-2-0), and had collected three victories in its past five outings (3-2-0) following a six-game losing run (0-6-0). Evgeni Malkin leads the Pens with 74 regular-season points this year (25 goals, 49 assists), while Bryan Rust (56 points) has buried the most goals (27).
Looking strong. Looking fast. Looking ready for Montreal. pic.twitter.com/QUYRncEDNK— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) July 29, 2020
Two-time Stanley Cup winner Matt Murray started 38 games in the net for the Penguins this season, posting a 20-11-5 total for the year with a 2.87 GAA and a .899 save percentage. He has registered a 4-1-0 career record against the Montreal Canadiens with a 2.19 GAA and a .921 save percentage. The Pens were scoring the 10th highest number of goals per game during the regular season (3.20), while allowing the 11th lowest quantity on the defensive end (2.84). They were 16th in power play (19.9%) and 8th in penalty kill (82.1%).
- Penguins are 5-2 in their last 7 vs. Atlantic.
- Penguins are 35-16 in their last 51 games playing on 3 or more days rest.
- Canadiens are 2-7 in their last 9 games as an underdog.
- Canadiens are 3-7 in their last 10 vs. a team with a winning record.
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
Injuries have been a constant problem for Pittsburgh this season, with the team ranking 4th in the whole league in man games lost (302). Still, the prolonged break due to the coronavirus lockdown has given the side enough time to return to its optimal squad and sees the Pens face off against the weakest opponent from all 24 teams participating in the postseason this year, with Montreal sitting 17 places and 15 points lower than Pittsburgh in NHL prior to the enforced hiatus. The Penguins warmed up for the first outing of their best-of-5 qualifier with a 3-2 overtime defeat to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday, while the Habs dropped a 4-2 decision versus the Toronto Maple Leafs on the same day, failing to convert on six power-play opportunities and allowing two shorthanded markers. Sidney Crosby failed to register a single shot on goal against the Flyers, but will be a threat to Montreal, having already banked 52 points (19 goals, 33 assists) in 40 career appearances against the Canadiens. A fit, rested and healthy Pittsburgh team is miles better than the Habs, who were sellers at the trade deadline and are probably still pinching themselves for making the postseason in most unusual circumstances. Montreal has already lost eight of its past 11 meetings with the Penguins and will most likely see the Pens sweep this series with ease.
Prediction: Pittsburgh Penguins (-165)
Full-Game Total Pick
The Canadiens have allowed four goals in each of their past four games, including Tuesday’s exhibition matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Habs have not, however, been too impressive on the offensive end of the ice lately to cancel out their defensive vulnerability, averaging just a single goal per game in their last three competitive fixtures. Their past four head-to-head encounters with the Penguins have all also gone under the total, with three of them finishing with exactly five snipes on the scoresheet.
Prediction: Under 5.5