Up and across the border, the Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets are set to play Game 2 in their Best-of-7 series on Friday. Game 1 went to the visitors, as the Canadiens could steal both road games with a win, while the Jets could tie things back up.
Here is a closer look at this matchup between North Division foes, from a series recap to players to watch and finally to a free betting pick. Despite being down in the series, Winnipeg is still a slight favorite at -118, while Montreal enters at an even +100.
In the first few minutes of Game 1, there was no question as to who was the better team. On the heels of a Game 7 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Canadiens continued their momentum with three goals in the first period, setting the tone for a 5-3 win.
Five different players ended up scoring for the Habs, headlined by winger Jesperi Kotkaniemi scoring his team-leading fourth goal of the playoffs. Kotkaniemi, along with centers Eric Staal and Nick Suzuki, also scored in the opening frame, with right wing Brendan Gallagher and center Jake Evans scoring later in the contest.
Evans’ goal was an empty-netter with under a minute to go; however, a scary moment happened right after. Near the net, Winnipeg center Mark Scheifele charged toward Evans and delivered a crushing high blow, knocking Evans out cold and forcing him to leave the game on a stretcher. Evans suffered a concussion as a result, while Scheifele was hit with a four-game suspension.
In net, longtime vet Carey Price held things down with 27 saves on 30 shots, the one real blemish coming in the first when Jets center Adam Lowry scored a shorthanded goal. However, Price still managed to outduel Connor Hellebuyck, as the reigning Vezina winner made 28 saves on 32 shots in his first loss this postseason.
Players to Watch
The veterans have led the way this postseason for Montreal. Staal and right wing Tyler Toffoli, two former Stanley Cup winners, lead the team with six points, while another former champion in right wing Corey Perry has five points skating on the team’s fourth line.
If there is a name to keep an eye on, though, it’s center Phillip Danault. Despite slotting in as the team’s first line center, Danault has a measly one assist in eight games and has a team-worst -8. Danault is not a huge scorer in general (24 points in 53 games during the regular season), but now with his linemate Evans out, the Habs would love for him to rise to the challenge and step up.
Scheifele’s upcoming four-game absence will be tough for Winnipeg, but they have other scoring options. Wingers Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler, along with defenseman Josh Morrisey, are all tied with Scheifele at five points in five playoff games, with Connor leading the whole group with three goals.
However, much like what Montreal faces with Danault, Winnipeg has its own struggling center in Pierre-Luc Dubois. Dubois was acquired during the year from Columbus in exchange for star scorer Patrik Laine and young center Jack Roslovic, and despite finishing the year better, he ended up with just 20 points in 41 games with his new team. But now, with three assists this postseason and Scheifele out for a while, the Jets need PLD to become the star they thought he was going to be.
Winnipeg believes they have an advantage in net with Hellebuyck, and they’re probably not wrong. While his overall numbers weren’t as dominant as last year, his four goals allowed on Wednesday was just the ninth time this year in 50 starts where he allowed more than three goals in a game.
Regardless of who wins, this has the makings of a low-scoring slugfest. Not only do both teams have great goalies that should bounce back from their previous game performance, but first liners like Scheifele and Evans, who will miss the game, leave both teams below their full offensive capabilities.
In a low-scoring game, I’m riding with the team that has an advantage in net, as well as a stronger overall penalty kill. For those reasons, I’m taking the Jets to tie the series up before the teams move over to Montreal for Game 3.
Pick: Jets -118