NHL Playoffs vs. March Madness: How much harder is it to win a best-of-seven compared to one game?

One thing that makes the NCAA tournament so fun is that each game counts. One loss and you’re out. That means a worse team getting a couple of lucky bounces can often beat a better team having an off-night. But in a best of seven series, that’s not supposed to be as true. With more games to play, the truly better team should come out on top, right?

My question is: How much of an effect does a best-of-seven series truly have?

For instance, take the NYR-PIT series, in which Vegas odds (right now) say The Rangers have a 65% chance of winning game one and the Penguins have a 35% chance of winning. If those odds don’t change through the series, what are Pittsburgh’s odds of winning it all?

To answer this, I wrote some code in R (hockey_sim.r), and ran tens of thousands of simulated playoff series. Here’s the answer:


According to this graph, The impact of the best-of-seven compared to a single game gets bigger as the teams get further apart in ability. The New York Rangers have a 65% chance of winning any single game, but an 81% chance of winning the series. Pittsburgh is on the other end of that equation.


And as you might expect, the more games in the series, the more pronounced this effect gets.



  1. Playing multiple games in a series has a serious effect on the likelihood of winning.
  2. The further the odds are from 50%, the bigger the effect gets.
  3. The more games you play, the bigger the effect gets.
  4. The magnitude of this effect is surprisingly small. Playing up to seven times as many games only improves New York’s odds by 15%

CCUBC Science Promotion Prize!

I’m so pleased to have awarded the 2014 Science Promotion Prize by the Canadian Council of University Biology Chairs (CCUBC). I work as hard as I can to turn kids into scientists and to help build public support for science in general. It’s very gratifying to know that biologists across Canada have noticed my efforts. I’m truly moved by this. I feel very honoured.

2014-11-14 14.02.22

I was on CNN – Talking Ebola, Dogs, and Bats

I appeared on CNN last night to help give context to the euthanization of Excalibur, the pet dog of the Spanish nurse who has contracted the ebola virus. My CNN interview is here:

I thought it might be helpful for me to follow up with some more thorough explanations:

Can animals get Ebola?
Yes Absolutely. Ebola affects humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas.

What animal first gave ebola to humans? Continue reading I was on CNN – Talking Ebola, Dogs, and Bats

Working with TV crews: A guide for scientists/researchers

50641096Summary Huzzah! You’ve been approached by a group of TV people who want to highlight your work! Congrats! Making your science accessible is a great thing to do, because it helps to make you a better communicator for grant applications and conferences, and because it also makes the world a better place. But doing TV can be unnerving, and can sometimes cause frustrations that might leave you wondering why you ever bothered to do TV in the first place. I was once a full-time scientist, but now I work as a TV producer/host trying to make your science accessible by interviewing people like you. I’ve written this article as advice, to help you have a positive experience when you work with people like me. If nothing else, I suggest that you keep in mind that TV crews will usually have different objectives than you will. Below, I explain that concept further, and then offer some suggestions that you, as a scientist interviewee, can use to feel a sense of control through the process. Continue reading Working with TV crews: A guide for scientists/researchers