How do the NHL playoffs work? From qualification to home-ice advantage, our guide explains it all.
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What are the NHL playoffs?
The NHL playoffs are an annual elimination tournament to decide the winner of the Stanley Cup – the NHL post-season trophy.
The NHL is the only major league in North America to name their post-season after the championship trophy, the Stanley Cup.
The Stanley Cup is named after Lord Stanley of Preston, the sixth Governor General of Canada, who presented the original trophy to the top amateur hockey team in the country in 1893.
When are the NHL playoffs?
The NHL playoffs usually take place between early April and June every year.
The 2023 playoffs will start on 17 April, just a few days after the conclusion of the regular season.
The postseason will end with the Stanley Cup Finals in June, although dates for that series are yet to be decided.
What is the format for the 2023 NHL playoffs?
Sixteen teams will qualify for the NHL playoffs, with the three top-ranked sides from each division joined by four wild card teams.
Wild card teams are the two teams in each conference outside of the top three with the highest points totals. Divisional alignment has no effect on wild cards, so it’s possible for one division to have five teams in the postseason, with the other division in the conference having just three.
Those 16 teams will be split into two separate brackets based on their seeding and their division – this is explained in full below.
Teams must navigate three rounds – the First Round, Second Round and Conference Finals – before the Eastern Conference champions meet the Western Conference champions in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Where are the NHL playoffs?
The NHL playoffs take place all over the USA and Canada, depending on which teams qualify for the post-season.
How many teams qualify for the NHL playoffs?
There are 16 spots in the NHL playoffs, with the qualifying teams determined by the regular season standings.
The first 12 spots go to the teams that finished in the top three of each of the four divisions in the NHL – the Atlantic, Metropolitan, Pacific and Central divisions.
The next four spots go to the two next-best teams in each conference – the Eastern and the Western. These teams are called wild cards.
Both conferences, therefore, contribute eight teams to the playoffs. It is possible, however, for one division to contribute five teams, with the other division in the same conference contributing three.
If there are two teams that finished on the same number of points across the season, then the qualifying team is determined by the following set of criteria:
- The team with the most regulation wins (not including overtime and shootouts).
- The team with the most regulation and overtime wins (not including shootouts).
- The team with the most wins overall, including shootouts.
- The team who earned most points in games between the two.
- The team with the greater differential between goals scored and goals conceded.
- The team who scored the most goals.
- If teams are still tied after all that, then a one-game playoff is played to determine home-ice advantage.
How do the NHL playoffs work?
The 16 qualifying teams are split into two brackets of eight, with the eight opening matchups determined largely on a divisional basis.
The division winner with the superior record in each conference is matched up with the wild card team with that compiled the worst regular-season record.
The wild card team with a better record in each division is therefore left to play the other division winner from their conference.
This means that the teams which finished second and third in their divisions meet in the other four opening series.
How many rounds are there in the NHL playoffs?
There are four rounds in the NHL playoffs – the First Round, the Second Round, the Conference Finals and the Stanley Cup Finals.
Each round consists of best-of-seven series, with the first team to four wins progressing to the next round of the competition.
In the Stanley Cup Finals, the first team to win four games is declared Stanley Cup champion for that season.
Each matchup is played in a 2-2-1-1-1 format, with the team that has home-ice advantage hosting games one, two, five and seven. The other team hosts games three, four and six.
Not all series go all seven games – as soon as a team has won four games the series is over.
How is home-ice advantage determined?
With each series consisting of seven games, that means one team will host four contests and the other will host three – this is called home-ice advantage.
In the first two rounds of the NHL playoffs, home-ice advantage is determined by seeding – the team with the higher seed gets it.
When the playoffs reach the Conference Finals, home-ice advantage is then determined by regular-season record, regardless of seeding.
How does overtime work in the NHL playoffs?
In the NHL regular season, games are eventually decided by shootout if no team manages to secure the win in overtime.
The Stanley Cup playoffs, however, work differently.
If a playoff game goes to overtime then it is decided by an infinite number of sudden-death, five-on-five 20-minute periods.
As soon as one team scores, the tie is over.
In theory, overtime in the Stanley Cup playoffs can last forever, but the longest that a game has gone historically is six extra periods.
Who won the 2022 NHL playoffs?
The Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup in 2022, defeating the two-time defending champions Tampa Bay Lightning in six games.
It was the Avalanche’s third Stanley Cup, and their first since the 2001-01 season.
Who are the most successful teams in the history of the Stanley Cup?
The Montreal Canadiens are the most successful team in Stanley Cup history, having won 24 titles since the competition began in 1915.
They have appeared in the playoffs a record 87 times and the Stanley Cup Finals a record 34 times.
Having lost just 10 of their Finals appearances, their 71 per cent win rate is also a record.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are the second-most successful team in the Stanley Cup playoffs, having won the competition 13 times.
The Detroit Red Wings are third with 11 victories, while also being the most successful American team in Stanley Cup history.
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