Confused as to how the new-look NHL postseason works?
Don’t worry. We’re here to help.
With the league now operating with two eight-team divisions (Atlantic, Metropolitan) in the Eastern Conference and two seven-team divisions (Central, Pacific) in the West, even the most basic mathlete can tell you that something doesn’t add up.
But rest assured, it all does at the end.
How? Well, let’s begin with the basics…
— The top three teams in each division qualify (3×4 = 12). Regardless if it’s a seven- or eight-team division, the top three are in.
— Two “wild card” teams in each conference (total points, regardless of division) qualify. Divisions don’t matter here. You have the points, you make the dance.
— The division leader in each conference with the most points plays the wild card team with the fewest points.
— The division leader with the second highest amount of points plays the wild card team with the most points.
— The remaining divisional qualifiers meet each other.
To illustrate, let’s do the Eastern Conference playoff picture based on the standings from Monday, Nov. 18:
The opening playoff round would look like this:
Tampa Bay (1st Atlantic) vs Montreal (2nd wild card)
Washington (1st Metro) vs. Detroit (1st wild card)
Boston (2nd Atlantic) vs. Toronto (3rd Atlantic)
Pittsburgh (2nd Metro) vs. NY Rangers (3rd Metro)
The first and second playoff rounds are divisional-based. On that note, it’s important to remember that, if a wild-card team wins in the first round, it will stay in the same division for the second round — even if it crossed over.
So, from the above scenario: If Detroit (Atlantic Division wildcard) beat Metropolitan No. 1 Washington in the opening round, the Red Wings would remain as a Metropolitan Division team and play the winner of Pittsburgh-New York in Round 2.
The two teams advancing from Round 2 — in the East, the Atlantic and Metropolitan champs; in the West, the Central and Pacific Champs — will meet in the Conference Finals.
The winners of each respective Conference Finals will meet in the Stanley Cup Final.
And that’s the new-look NHL playoffs.