Chapter 7. Prediction

The Boston Bruins problem

In the 2010-11 National Hockey League (NHL) Finals, my beloved Boston Bruins played a best-of-seven championship series against the despised Vancouver Canucks. Boston lost the first two games 0-1 and 2-3, then won the next two games 8-1 and 4-0. At this point in the series, what is the probability that Boston will win the next game, and what is their probability of winning the championship?

As always, to answer a question like this, we need to make some assumptions. First, it is reasonable to believe that goal scoring in hockey is at least approximately a Poisson process, which means that it is equally likely for a goal to be scored at any time during a game. Second, we can assume that against a particular opponent, each team has some long-term average goals per game, denoted λ.

Given these assumptions, my strategy for answering this question is

  1. Use statistics from previous games to choose a prior distribution for λ.

  2. Use the score from the first four games to estimate λ for each team.

  3. Use the posterior distributions of λ to compute distribution of goals for each team, the distribution of the goal differential, and the probability that each team wins the next game.

  4. Compute the probability that each team wins the series.

To choose a prior distribution, I got some statistics from http://www.nhl.com, specifically the average goals per game for each team in the 2010-11 season. The distribution is roughly Gaussian with mean 2.8 and standard deviation ...

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