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Stanley Cup Finals: Boston Bruins vs St. Louis Blues Game 7 Preview and Gambling Odds

Stanley Cup Finals 2019
I joke often about how sports gambling lingo treats all of Las Vegas (or an entire bookmaking apparatus) like a person. What does Las Vegas think? Who does Sportsbook X “like” to win?

Obviously, Sin City isn’t a hive-mind and “sportsbook” is an abstraction. So neither can actually think, or like anybody. Insert cheesy pun or punch line.

But sometimes, I’m not so sure. Sometimes it’s as if you can look at the odds and see warring points of view, opposing betting angles (and opposing fan bases) holding a moneyline in place.

Just look at the Vegas lines for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals on Wednesday night.

Even as Boston fell behind 3-2 headed into a Game 6 in St. Louis, veteran handicappers were waiting for the Bruins’ blue line and goaltending to assert superiority over a Blues’ backstopping effort led by green-horned Jordan Binnington.

In the 3rd period of Game 6, Binnington let a weak dribbling shot past him while dealing with an 0-1 deficit, and the floodgates appeared to open in a 5-1 Spokes win. That outcome is helping the Boston Bruins to moneylines as short as (-170) to win the next contest at TD Garden and hoist the Cup at home.

At the same time, home-ice advantage may not mean everything it used to mean in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That is helping the Blues hold steady at lines like (+150) to grab the grail.

In fact NHL betting sites – er, gamblers at NHL betting sites – seem to like the Blues a little bit more after 18-24 hours of gambling action, driving the St. Louis price at Bovada Sportsbook at least a dime shorter since opening.

I’ll compare the Game 7 odds at a few online sportsbooks and try to determine the best markets. First, though, a look at how the opponents got to a rubber match.

St. Louis vs Boston: Thrills and Controversy in the Cup Finals

Perhaps another factor helping Beantown to a solid favorites’ line for Wednesday’s Game 7 is that some fans felt the Bruins were the legitimate winners of Game 5.

Or at least not the legit losers of Game 5.

Boston hosted the Thursday night contest just as bookmakers were questioning St. Louis’ staying power and goaltending once again. The Blues had won Game 4 to even the series at 2-2, but Game 3 had brought an epic collapse from the Blue Note on home ice as 7 different Bruins scored in a 7-2 victory. Binnington had been pulled for veteran backup Jake Allen after allowing 5 goals on 19 shots. In Game 6, Ryan O’ Reilly scored to give St. Louis a 1-0 lead in the 2nd period, but it felt like a matter of time before the Bruins erased the thin deficit. Jake DeBrusk of the Bruins did solve Binnington in the 3rd frame.

But the crucial, defining moment had already taken occurred. Blues forward Tyler Bozak had appeared to blatantly trip Noel Acciari of the Bruins, but the St. Louis possession was allowed to continue – and resulted in a game-winning goal.

Boston coach Bruce Cassidy tore into the officials after Game 5, though it’s not as if St. Louis fans don’t have any NHL rulings to complain about. Blues forward Ivan Barbashev was suspended for Game 6, the 2nd suspension that the club has suffered late in a miraculous championship run.

Then something else happened prior to Game 6 which seems to defy belief. As they say, sometimes you just can’t make this stuff up.

The Jinx

Before the Chicago Cubs won a World Series and put The Curse of the Billy Goat to bed, I was struck by Michael Wilbon’s up-close-and-personal descriptions of the effects of The Curse on ballplayers in the Windy City. “I’m new here, I could care less about some old hometown curse” would be the smug quote from every superstar for whom the Cubs traded or acquired in free agency.

At that point, the confident, high-priced athlete would spend a few months playing baseball for the Chicago Cubs. Headlines about The Curse. Questions about The Curse. Signs in the bleachers referencing The Curse, every single day. There was no escape. It had a life of its own.

Depending on the outcome of Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals, another Midwestern “jinx” may have just been born before our very eyes.

On Sunday, as the St. Louis Blues prepared for a Game 6 that might have delivered a maiden Stanley Cup to the Gateway City, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch released sponsors’ congratulations and fanfare for the Blues in its normal Sabbath-day edition.

Congratulations…on winning the Stanley Cup.

As a native of the St. Louis area I can tell you that big-time sports media gaffes are nothing new to the city. In a post on the sports blog last month, I discussed how a President’s Cup run by the Blues once inspired the Post-Dispatch staff to get a little too cocky and publish a cartoon depicting the team’s opponents (the San Jose Sharks, as it were) as pale, scrawny cowards. The Sharks – aided with tailor-made bulletin-board material – won the series in 7 games.

Sometimes the town’s flaky media blunders far worse than just angering an opponent or jinxing the home team. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, a pundit was blithely discussing Notre Dame vs Air Force on St. Louis’s “ESPN 550” affiliate at 2 AM when a terrifying Emergency Broadcast warning horn cut across the airwaves. Having watched a lot of YouTube apocalypse fiction with a similar soundtrack – and aware there had already been multiple mass-terrorism attacks on the United States within the week – I nearly jumped into a manhole before hearing the reassuring “This Has Been a Test” message.

The federal government, of course, had given every radio and TV network from Alabama to Anchorage strict instructions not to blare any random EMB signals out at the public at a fearful time.

Memos aren’t always read by St. Louis sports staffers…at least not at 2 AM on the South side.

But I can’t recall a scenario in which the Gateway’s journalists have so jeopardized a hometown sports club as they might have hurt the Blues going into Game 6. I don’t think the psychology of the “Yay We Won!” content blunder (and the resulting indignance on social media) affected Vladimir Tarasenko, Colton Parayko or the St. Louis Blues coaching staff headed into Sunday night. But it sure as hell affected the Boston Bruins, who told reporters that the premature victory celebration in the STL newspaper became a rallying cry for the club in the dressing room.

Not that I’m buying that narrative 100%. When hockey players get mad – forwards especially – they tend to play reckless attacking hockey. It’s less a matter of Brad Marchand thinking, “My pride has been challenged, so I’m going to remember everything coach says about back-checking and making sure to cover my guy.” An incensed Marchand would be more likely to say, “I’m going to stand here at the blue line until you put the puck on my stick, and then I’m going to go shove it down Binnington’s throat so that it comes out his rear end and goes in.”

Funny enough, the Bruins’ 2nd goal did appear to trickle out of Binnington and into the net.

Game 6 wasn’t won in anger, though. It might not have been won by a goaltender, even though Boston’s Tuukka Rask was fabulous in the 5-1 victory. It was won by Cassidy out-coaching talented St. Louis skipper Craig Berube, and by neutral-zone defending that frustrated the Blue Note on choppy ice.

Can the Bruins do it again? Is Binnington growing shaky enough – finally after much apprehension – that the favorites must only patiently defend until chances appear to befuddle the Blues’ netminder? Or will a more aggressive strategy be needed against a Parayko-and-Bouwmeester led defense corps in a Game 7 for all the marbles?

The moneyline still nods at Beantown and probably will until face-off on Wednesday. But I’m interested to look at the O/U totals too – to determine what style of hockey game Vegas handicappers expect.

Comparing the Betting Odds on Game 7

There isn’t a whole lot of difference between the moneylines for Game 7 at the bookmaker sites in our network. Most sportsbooks’ NHL-betting rulebooks stipulate that OT goals and winners count, so there’s no separate prop betting market on a club to “lift the Stanley Cup” in a drawn-out result. We’re just looking at who will win and who will lose at TD Garden, and it seems that only a slight majority of gamblers are liking the St. Louis Blues at underdog prices.

If you’re betting on St. Louis to win the Cup, do it at Bovada Sportsbook, where the club’s moneyline is longest at (+148).

What’s odd (excuse the pun) is that despite any skepticism that Binnington can outplay Rask in Game 7, at least 3 books are using the same formula for their O/U totals with the low side getting a huge house % and the Over giving away money.

Bovada’s odds on a (5 ½) goal total include a (-150) payoff on the Under and a (+130) payoff on the Over. BetOnline offers an even longer (+134) line on the Over and (-148) on Under (5 ½). MyBookie is copying the Bovada market.

My favorite line is a goal spread, Blues (+1 ½) at BetOnline with a (-195) payoff. I’ll explain why.

Handicapping Boston vs St. Louis in Game 7

The Bruins have a few small advantages headed into the final face-off. Marchand is just one of many Bruin finesse players who are happiest playing at home against a big, chippy side like St. Louis. The Boston crowd – and Cassidy – will be ringing loud and clear in officials’ ears if the calls start to go against Spokes again on Wednesday night.

Cassidy’s club knows it can hit a fierce new rival right where it hurts with a Game 7 victory, potentially labeling the Blues as a “jinxed” team in years to come.

I like how the Bruins played a cool, confident, cautious game and slowly ground-down the Blues in Game 6. And I can see why bookies and gamblers are expecting a low-scoring contest. Zdeno Chara isn’t a finesse player. The 42-year-old Slovak is playing through a ghastly jaw injury, and it’s not hard to imagine a 1-1 or even 0-0 overtime scenario with near-invulnerable monsters manning the blue lines.

Sports can be a paradox, though, and I believe that the key to potential Boston glory lies in the roster’s ability to attack on offense without giving out counter-attacking chances to forwards like Tarasenko and O’Reilly going the other way. O’Reilly is in my opinion the “Kevin McHale” of the modern NHL, a driving, interior 2-way force that will never be truly appreciated.

In McHale’s day, a trip to Los Angeles for a Game 7 meant almost certain doom. Just as a visit to any legendary NHL club’s arena for a Game 7 was once a more daunting hurdle. Cassidy will get the final shift-change advantage in Wednesday’s decisive pond shinny, but that’s less of a factor in a National Hockey League no longer filled with “scoring” and “checking” lines but rather 4 lines which are expected to score and check. The extra real-estate that the visiting Blues must contend with on 1st and 3rd-period shift changes is also less of a big deal thanks to St. Louis’ impressive team speed.

It’s far from certain that Boston will win. But I’m convinced that Binnington is going to bounce back – he has at every opportunity – and that the outcome of Game 7 will be a 1-goal result. That means that whether the Blues win or lose, the short-priced Blues (+1 ½) market is a near-lock to pay off.

Yes, an empty-netter can cause a 2-goal-win outcome in even the tightest struggle. But NHLers in a 1-goal-lead scenario in the regular season often try to pocket a cheap goal – that won’t happen in a championship elimination game in which a Blues or Bruins defenseman could get whistled with an icing call with :20 left and “jinx” his leading team…far worse than the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ever could.

ODDS-195

MY PICK:
Take the St. Louis Blues and (+1 ½) goals at BetOnline.