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You’re probably worried: Maple Leafs playoff forecast

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What is the chance it will rain goals in the Panthers’ net tonight?

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Minnesota Wild
He’s not worried.
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Weather forecasts are always wrong though. Everyone knows that. It’s all bunk.

“I’m just telling you — if I did my job the way they do theirs, I’d be here about a week,” New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in October. “Based on the forecasts we’ve gotten so far this year, none of them have been close to what game conditions were. There was 100 percent chance of rain last week, and the only water I saw was on the Gatorade table. . . . They’re almost always wrong.” [Source]

For some reason I don’t pretend to understand, that point of view is comforting to some people.

It’s odd to me how we as humans like two very contradictory things. We like to gamble, and there is little point in gambling if you know the outcome in advance. What is watching sports and cheering for a team, but gambling with your emotions?

The other thing we like to do is demand that fortune tellers provide us with perfect truth about the future. A lot of people are convinced that weather forecasting is always wrong when it is one of the most accurate predictive models there is, built on massive piles of data.

A one-day temperature forecast is now typically accurate within about two to 2.5 degrees, according to National Weather Service data. In other words, when you see a forecast high of 82, most of the time the actual high will be between 80 and 85.

The nature of probability is that predictions are sometimes wrong, and “So you’re saying there’s a chance,” is both a meme and factually true about most things.

Probability is about how much of a chance there is.

If you say that the Leafs need only win this game while that team loses this other game and this third team over here does this other thing, and then, OMG, they make the playoffs/flame out ... that’s exactly the scenarios included in the probability. You just got there by guessing.

So does everyone else, to be clear. Any predictive model is just guessing. It’s informed guessing, and it makes its assumptions at a more conceptual level than emotion-driven speculation about how it’s all going horribly wrong/right, and then calculates the probability without factoring in how anyone feels. But it’s built on guessing.

So, I’m saying there’s a chance, and now we can look at how much of one.

The Nashville Predators beat the New York Islanders last night, and the Tampa Bay Lightning took two points from Chicago. The Carolina Hurricanes, who have sneaked into the conversation, took one point.

The Leafs were tucked up in bed dreaming of goals flying past Panthers goalies, and yet, their chances changed while they slept.

After the loss in Buffalo the Leafs were at 76.3 percent. Most of the increase in their overall chances comes in their chances to take the second wild card spot. In other words, the loss by the Islanders had an impact, but the points gained by the two teams further down the standings didn’t have as much of one.

The Leafs and a bunch of other teams are sharing the chances at getting into the playoffs via the wild card. The proportions changed between the group, and the Leafs ended up with more. The biggest change was Tampa taking a lot of the Islanders’ share. The Islanders have run out of time. I think the Lightning have too, but they can pull out a shocker easier than anyone else in distant range.

The Predators can have another huge impact on the Leafs’ chances tonight if they win against the Boston Bruins.

The swing in overall probability for the Bruins is 81 to 59. And I think we all know what we want to happen here. The Leafs share all of their probabilities with the Bruins. The lower they go, the higher the Leafs goes for the important one, the third place in the Atlantic.

But the Leafs can only control one outcome: their own game. And if they win it against the Panthers, they will be right back at the sort of probability number they were before the Buffalo game. It’s a roller coaster ride, but right now the lowest points are still pretty high up in the air.

That’s how much of a chance there is.