With a little less than a month left in the NHL regular season, we think its time to breakdown how the somewhat confusing NHL playoff format works (scroll down to see our custom-built bracket if you need a visual aid).
First, let’s start with the basics. The NHL is broken into two conferences, the Eastern and the Western. The East represents 16 out of the 30 NHL teams with the West making up the renaming 14 teams. Within each conference there are two divisions. In the East you have the Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions, and in the West you have the Central and Pacific divisions.
The top 3 teams from each division make the playoffs. The final 2 Playoff Spots in each conference are “Wild Cards”. These are the top 2 teams, in terms of points, from either division within the conference. For example, there could be 5 teams from a single division that make the playoffs, based on how the Wild Card works.
Here is how it is seeded: The Divisions have their own brackets. With #1, #2, #3, and a Wild Card making up each Division. In the East, the Winner of the Atlantic Bracket and the Winner of the Metropolitan Bracket will play for the Eastern Conference Championship and a birth in the Stanley Cup Final.
The division winner with the most points will play the Wild Card team with the least points. The division winner with the least points of the two plays the higher Wild Card. #2 and #3 in each division play each other in the first round. A Team from the Metropolitan Division can still get seeded in the Atlantic Bracket, as a Wild Card. Even if there is one Atlantic team and one Metro team as the Wild Cards. The same applies for the Western Conference Teams/Divisions.
Home-ice advantage through the first two rounds goes to the team that placed higher in the regular-season standings. In the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final, home-ice advantage goes to the team that had the better regular-season record — regardless of the teams’ final standing in their respective divisions.
So there you have it. It’s a bit confusing but we’ve covered it all. Feel free to leave comments with any questions you may have, we’ll do our best to answer them.