I thought of a whole new use for line-forecasting today.
Or should I say a new method of handicapping based around odds-forecasting.
Forecasting a moneyline is a tactic used to find value in ordinary-looking odds. When a casino puts a price like (-150) on the Golden State Warriors or Toronto Raptors to win, it’s easy to glance at the number and think “the analysts see a likely victory, there must be a reason.” But suppose the bookmaker made a mistake, or suppose the lines have already been out for a while and have moved with the betting action. Perhaps it’s bad to assume that one’s personal handicap is wrong and the Vegas handicap is right. So if we forecast the New York Rangers to be a favorite and the club’s moneyline turns out to have a “+” in front of it, it’s never a bad idea to at least consider whether the line is mispriced.
Now imagine another scenario. Suppose you forecast the likely score or most-logical spread for a game, and the genre of betting odds won’t cooperate and give you anything in parallel to compare prices on.
You might think the St. Louis Blues are a great wager at (+0.5) and (-110), but the “puck line” tradition of (+/- 1.5) in Las Vegas means that a half-goal spread won’t be there.
The answer is to look at alternate lines and spreads. If we’re unlucky enough to have forecast a score – or several similar scores – to be one of the outcomes on a given day but at the same time flummoxed by the main “Game Lines” at Bovada Sportsbook and elsewhere, the alternate lines (that should be offered by sportsbooks) give the gambler a chance to locate her score-forecast with a price next to it. Did I already use the technique once? Prior to the 2019 Sugar Bowl I wagered a (+2500) prop market on Texas winning by 10 to 12 points, and the Longhorns did. That’s a much bigger payoff than would ever be available using traditional “line” (price) forecasting tactics.
Last but not least, this idea of “likely score forecasting” could save me from embarrassment on WagerBop when it comes to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the visiting Blues and host Boston Bruins.
I’m supposed to make a prediction and recommend a wager on the biggest ice hockey game of the year, and none of the main gambling lines are yanking my crank.
Despite a “jinx” on the St. Louis club courtesy of a clumsy hometown newspaper, and despite dozens of other angles on Wednesday night’s rubber match at TD Garden (superstitious and otherwise), I’m not liking either team’s moneyline. The Bruins are (-165) favorites at MyBookie, with the Blues a (+145) underdog.
Meanwhile, the puck line is “stuck” at a tricky 1 and ½ goal margin as usual, and almost every bookmaker (in Vegas, London or offshore) is manipulating the O/U market to take a gigantic house % on “Under” (5.5)…which would be my 2nd choice if only the price was fair.
I do have a firm idea of how Game 7 might proceed, even if I’m not sure the favorites will prevail. There has to be a betting line out there somewhere that will reflect my prediction while offering a good price.
Controversy in Game 5
Of course there are a lot of Beantown loyalists who would say this is all a sham anyway, since the Boston Bruins should have already been crowned Stanley Cup Champions in 6 games. It would help to go back and look at why.
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 5, 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.
— NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSBoston) June 7, 2019
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.
Jinx in the Gateway City
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.
I don’t think the psychology of the “Yay We Won!” content blunder affected Vladimir Tarasenko, Colton Parayko or the St. Louis Blues coaching staff headed into Sunday night. But it sure as hell affected the 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.
Game 6 wasn’t won in anger, and it might not have been won in goal, even though Boston’s Tuukka Rask badly out-played Jordan Binnington 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 that the favorites must only patiently defend until chances appear to befuddle the Blues’ netminder? Or will a more straight-ahead strategy be needed against a Parayko-and-Bouwmeester led St. Louis defense corps in Game 7?
Counting the Spokes
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.
Boston’s key is to attack 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 who will never be fully appreciated.
In McHale’s day, a trip to Los Angeles for a Game 7 meant almost certain doom. Home venue is less of a factor in a National Hockey League where teams no longer employ “scoring” and “checking” lines but rather 4 lines expected to score and check. That cuts down on Cassidy’s shift-change advantage.
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.
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.
Bovada’s Alternate Game 7 Lines
I’m not a big fan of BetOnline’s alternate lines. When available, you have to go searching through another section of the site to find them. And MyBookie’s “Props” option next to Game 7 of the Bruins-Blues final is currently pretty thin, a product of the book out-sourcing its player props to the site’s auto-prop generator.
But take a look at the alternate lines for Game 7 at Bovada Sportsbook.
2 prices seem to almost jump off the board and bet themselves.
First is Bruins-by-1-goal at (+500). Binnington may play better than expected, and the Blues will circle the wagons around him. But Rask won’t break in a 3rd period or overtime scenario with a deadlocked score, and the likeliest scenario – a drawn game late – leads to the likely outcome of Boston’s hometown announcers making the call that wins it all.
Also, consider Under (4.5) at (+175). Consider that while the St. Louis Blues have been called the dirtiest players in the game, it doesn’t matter whether you skate into a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals with the Broad Street Bullies or HC Bern from the Swiss league, the referees will not be calling penalties after the 1st period.
Both clubs will clutch-and-grab to their hearts’ content in the late-going, stifling puck-carriers and reducing the game to a scrum along the boards with a 1-0 or a 2-1 final score.
The fans won’t mind. Wednesday’s pond shinny could be the most suspenseful outcome of any American sporting event all year.
After all, overtime in the NBA Finals is not sudden death.
Pick the Under (4.5) and Boston-by-1 for alternate-line winners in Game 7.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.