Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens: Playoffs Opening Round Free Pick & Predictions

Penguins vs. Canadiens
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens: Playoffs Opening Round Free Pick & Predictions

Hockey is back in action as the eight opening round series begin at the two Canadian hub cities. In the Eastern Conference, the fifth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins will play the the 12th-seeded Montreal Canadiens in a best-of-five series. The Penguins were one of the best teams in hockey, but fell three points shy of the final top-four seed in the East. The Canadiens were an even 31-31-9 this year to edge out the Sabres and Devils for the final playoff spot. The first game is set for Saturday at 8 p.m. EST with a potential Game 5 scheduled for Aug. 8.

Free Picks & Predictions

This series is one of the biggest mismatches on paper among the eight opening round series in the NHL, and the odds at most NHL betting sites in New Jersey reflect that. Montreal is the biggest underdog among the eight series with prices as high as +190 on the Canadiens to advance past Pittsburgh.

The Penguins are an experienced group that still features plenty of the players who helped them win back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017. Obviously included in that group is the immensely talented duo of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, two of the premier scorers in the league’s history. Pittsburgh has also been helped by a career-best 56 points and 27 goals from Bryan Rust, which has added even more scoring depth.

Pittsburgh’s problem is in goal where neither Matt Murray nor Tristan Jarry really took a hold of the job before the pandemic hit. Murray backstopped the Penguins to two Cup victories, but his .899 save percentage this season is troubling. Jarry has the better stats, but he’s a rookie without any playoff experience on a team that has championship aspirations.

Meanwhile in Montreal, the Canadiens don’t have nearly the same scoring punch as the Penguins. Tomas Tatar leads the Canadiens with 22 goals and 66 points, and Brandon Gallagher has also scored 22 times, but the scoring has been hard to come by elsewhere in the lineup. Only two other players were on pace to hit 50 points and only seven likely would have hit 40, so Montreal doesn’t have the firepower to keep up with Pittsburgh on offense

That means the Canadiens are relying on Carey Price in goal, and any time you have the better goalie in a series, you have a fighting chance to win the series. However, Montreal is in the midst of a rebuild and Price likely won’t be enough to steal a series by himself. In fact, he might not even be able to steal a game, so instead of taking the Penguins at odds hovering around -200 to win the series, put the money on Pittsburgh to sweep Montreal at +400 odds.

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Josh Walfish is an award-winning journalist who has been covering college and professional sports in the United States. He holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University and his work has appeared in the Miami Herald, Chicago Sun-Times and Providence Journal. He most recently chronicled the UMass hockey teams rise to prominence over the last two years for the local newspaper

All Reviews by Josh Walfish

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