MONTREAL — Let’s talk about Vegas. Not the city, not the team, but the oddsmakers.
They have the Golden Knights as massive favourites against the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Semifinals. And by massive we mean you’d have to bet $450 on them just to win $100.
That’s an implication Vegas has an 82 per cent chance of winning this series — a Pisa-level lean with just four teams remaining.
Perhaps the Canadiens can add that to the bulletin board in their dressing room, which we imagine already hosts our Sportsnet insider predictions, which, as you know by now, were unanimous in suggesting they’d lose to the Toronto Maple Leafs in Round 1.
We have an inclination they were made aware of what people were saying about their chances against the Winnipeg Jets in Round 2, after they came back from down 3-1 against Toronto and won in seven games. No one personally reached out to share that information, but Tyler Toffoli did say this after the Canadiens completed the four-game sweep of the Jets at the Bell Centre on Monday: "It kind of feels like nobody believes in us."
"The only people we have are ourselves and our fans, which clearly, with the small amount of fans in the building, it sounded a lot more than what it was, are behind us," Toffoli continued.
This stuff matters. People can say it doesn’t — on Friday, former Golden Knight Nick Suzuki was just the latest Canadiens player to suggest he doesn’t care what anyone else thinks — but it always does.
And not just in Montreal.
Here’s what Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer said after his team knocked the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Colorado Avalanche out of the playoffs on Thursday: "I don’t think there was a person in the hockey world, when we were down 2-0, that would predict that we would finish this off in six, at home tonight. That was real. There was a lot more talk about being swept and embarrassed, and could we even win a game?
"So, I think we’ve got a group with a lot of pride, and they just blocked out the noise and went to work and battled and scraped and scratched and found a way."
We’ll just remind you the Golden Knights finished tied in points with the Avalanche in the regular season, but this is just a sample of how much teams will take even a sliver of doubt in their ability as a personal slight. Teams thrive on that doubt. It adds another log on the fire for them and serves as a rally cry of sorts, even if none of them ever care to admit it in the moment.
So, even if the Canadiens don’t want to feed into that right now with their comments, it could play a considerable role in how things turn out for them in Game 1 on Monday — and moving forward through the series — up against a team that finished 23 points and 16 places ahead of them in the standings.
This is a Vegas team that won 40 of 56 games, a team running four lines deep, with star talent sprinkled onto two of them and scorers, checkers and bruisers filling out the other two. They’ve got superstars on defence and a goaltender, in Marc-Andre Fleury, who has been named a finalist for this year’s Vezina Trophy.
If it’s consensus out there that the Golden Knights are going to smack the Canadiens right in the mouth, that confidence in their ability — after they won a hard-fought, seven-game series against the Minnesota Wild and beat the most loaded Avalanche team since Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Patrick Roy were dressed in their uniform — has been earned.
But if there’s one thing the Canadiens have shown in these playoffs, it’s that they’re very comfortable being an underdog.
"Having people doubting you, I always personally like to prove people wrong," said Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme. "When people think that we cannot do something, it’s always nice to… it’s another layer where you can gain energy or another challenge.
"But it comes from within. Everything around can be looked at as something that can spark your team, but at the end of the day, it’s really inside — what’s going on in the group and the way they want to handle things and the way we want to face challenges and face adversity."
The Canadiens have done an exceptional job balancing living up to their own expectations and rising high above ones others have had for them. They’re on a seven-game win streak and haven’t trailed in over 435 minutes of play.
Montreal goaltender Carey Price is leading the playoffs with a .935 save percentage, every Canadiens forward has scored at least a point through their 11 games and the defence, by the numbers, is the stingiest one still standing.
The Canadiens may rank last among the four teams left on the power play, but they’re still clicking at close to 20 per cent there despite starting the playoffs 0-for-15. They’re up against a Vegas penalty kill that’s given up eight goals on 28 attempts, while their own penalty kill has scored more goals than it’s allowed.
When you add it all up, the discrepancy between both teams isn’t nearly as large as the odds or the standings would suggest. There aren’t many differences in the way both teams are constructed, either — with great goaltending, versatile and physical defence and four lines rolling out in balance.
"You don’t beat a team like Colorado without (depth)," DeBoer said on Thursday. "We’re the sum of our parts. We don’t have that superstar power that they do."
He could’ve been describing the Canadiens, which is why you might want to lay a few bucks on the line on an upset. It’s still taking on a fair degree of risk, but the reward seems worth it.