How the NHL Playoffs Work

The NHL playoffs commence after the NHL regular season concludes. 16 teams, eight from each conference qualify for the playoffs in an attempt to win the Stanley Cup in the final. The Stanley cup commissioned in 1892, is the oldest existing sports trophy to be awarded to a sports franchise. Fans will agree that to watch NHL live stream of the teams as they battle it out on the ice is one of the most thrilling things ever! Nevertheless, it helps to know what happens behind the scenes and what criteria is used to pick the teams that get to fight for the cup.


The playoffs consist of four rounds of the best-of-seven series. Each team hosts two games where the home team hosts game one and two whereas the opponent team hosts game three and four. The other games five six and seven are only played if need be. In this case, the home team will host game five and seven whereas the away team will host game six. The three top teams from each of the four divisions are automatic qualifiers. Two teams with the highest total points from each conference also qualify. Such teams are referred to as wild cards. With no attention paid to the divisional selection of the wild cards; both teams may be selected from the same division. Such overlaps only serve to expose the mess in the NHL playoff format.


The eight teams from each conference are divided into two divisions making four divisions for the playoffs. The first placed team in each division gets the number one seed. The second and third-placed teams in each division get the second and third seeds respectively. The two wild-card teams take the number four seed. The higher seeded team gets a home-ice advantage by hosting the first two rounds. The other opponent hosts the other two games. In case of a tie, the standard tie-breaking procedure is implemented where the team with the home-ice advantage hosts game five and seven while the opponent’s host game six.

Elimination Rounds

In the first round, each division has one of the top three qualifiers and one wild card. Both wild cards will each play with a number one seed. The better of the wild cards takes on, the lesser number one seeded team while the other takes on the highest placed number one seed. This means that a wildcard can play in a divisional playoff, other than the one they call home, during the playoffs eliminations. During the other series games, the second and third-placed teams in a division to go head to head. The winners of the first round series which, in this case, are the divisional semifinals advance to the divisional finals. The divisional finalists face the winners of the other division of the same conference in a second-round elimination series and the winners advance to the Stanley Cup finals. The emerging winners are then crowned Stanley Cup Champions, and they experience what it’s like to be Stanley Cup royalty, until the next season.

The Bottomline

Granted, the NHL still has a long way to go when it comes to the formula for the NHL playoffs, and one can only hope that they take the right steps. However, even with its flaws, the NHL playoffs are a sight to behold, and quite literally at that because who doesn’t want to see the competition, pressure, hard hits, excellent plays, and history made on the ice?