TAMPA, Fla. -- The Montreal Canadiens were long shots to win the Stanley Cup at the start of the playoffs, and that's putting it kindly.
Sportsbooks had the Canadiens' odds anywhere from +2,000 to +5,000, depending on when the wagers were made. They finished fourth in their own division and had the 18th-best record in the NHL this season. They were +240 in their first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Now, they're just four wins away from hoisting the Stanley Cup, and the true believers who wagered on a Montreal championship run are looking at quite a windfall -- whether they cash the ticket or hedge their bet by selling it for a considerable profit.
True believers like Dave from New York, who asked that his last name be withheld.
The 24-year-old spent $45 to buy a Canadiens betting slip on PropSwap.com, a secondary market where U.S. sports wagerers can sell their betting tickets. It was at a time when Montreal was down 3-1 in their series against the Leafs. The original wager didn't have the longest odds -- it was a 50-1 bet placed at MGM Sportsbook. But if the Canadiens somehow won the Cup, that $45 bought him a ticket worth just over $10,000, based on the size of the initial ante of $196.08.
Dave purchased the ticket for a specific reason.
"It was the Leafs. They collapse every year. They choke every year. So I saw an opportunity," he said.
But it wasn't just the infinite fallibility of the Maple Leafs in the Stanley Cup playoffs that motivated him. The Winnipeg Jets had already swept the Edmonton Oilers in the other North Division playoff series. Dave wasn't impressed.
"I had it all planned out. I said to myself, 'If Montreal could somehow come back, they're going to play a Winnipeg team that hadn't had much success,'" he said. "It was a big risk I took. But a big reward if they were able to come back against Toronto, which they did. And then they took care of Winnipeg."
"The toughest part was holding onto it during that Vegas series. I was definitely scared going into that series," he said.
But he believed in the Canadiens. He marveled at their defense. He put his faith in goaltender Carey Price. He watched them get timely goals from different players throughout their lineup.
"Plus, I only paid $45 for this ticket. I'm going to let it ride. I was tempted to sell it. But even when they lost Game 1, I knew they were going to steal Game 2. I just held on," he said.
The Canadiens eliminated the Golden Knights in six games to advance to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1993, putting Dave just four wins away from turning $45 into $10,000. But he had a problem in the other side of the bracket.
You see, Dave isn't just a New Yorker -- he's from Long Island, and a massive Islanders fan.
"If the Islanders win, I'm going to sell that ticket immediately," he said with a laugh about an hour before Game 7 between the Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night.
They did not win. The Lightning eliminated the Islanders 1-0 in the final game of their series. So with Tampa Bay moving on to face Montreal for the Stanley Cup beginning on Monday night, Dave again has a plan.
"I'm not selling before Game 1. I'm watching Game 1, see how it goes, and then I'm going to decide what I'm going to do," he said. "If Montreal wins, they might end up being the favorites over Tampa."
Dave obviously isn't alone on this long shot journey with the Canadiens. PropSwap.com had another ticket sell for $60 when Montreal was down 3-1 to the Maple Leafs; that buyer flipped it for $1,800 in the Vegas series; and then the second owner had it listed for $4,500 before the Stanley Cup Final, with a $10,500 payout on the line.
William Hill reports that there are some significant bets on the Canadiens to win the Stanley Cup. There was a $2,500 wager at +2,800 odds that will win $70,000; a $1,100 bet at +2,500 that wins $27,500; and a $1,000 at +4,500 odds that would net the ticket-holder $45,000.
Whatever Dave ends up doing, he said that turning $45 into a few thousand dollars at worst -- and $10,000 at best -- is "a dream come true" for a sports wagerer.
Or at least one who had the good sense to know that the safest bet in the Stanley Cup playoffs is one against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"Once it got to Game 7, I was very confident. Because Toronto, in Game 7s? It doesn't go well," Dave said.