Explaining the Stanley Cup playoff bracket: How do the NHL playoffs work?

This year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs will be a little bit different than most NHL seasons. Here’s a quick breakdown of how the NHL playoffs will work.

The 2020-21 NHL season has been vastly different than any season we’ve seen as fans. So naturally, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are going to be a bit different as well. While there won’t be 24 teams like last year’s expanded NHL playoffs, there are still going to be some changes from your typical postseason format.

These changes should hopefully provide some fresh content, as the Stanley Cup Playoffs have gotten a little bit stale over the years with very few changes. With new changes, hockey could provide new fans with an incentive to keep on watching.

Explaining how the NHL playoffs work

Like most years, there will be 16 teams in the postseason (eight teams from each conference). However, there will be four teams from each division, which is a slight change from the norm. Usually, each division has at least three playoff teams and each conference has two additional wild card teams.

Why does each division have four teams? Because this year’s format will be even more heavily focused on divisions than usual. Each division will send one team to the semifinals. The East and Central Divisions will be in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the North (or Canadian) and West Divisions are in the Western Conference.

However, the semifinals won’t be a Conference Final. Rather, the highest remaining seed will face the lowest remaining seed. Meanwhile, the second-highest seed will host the second-lowest seed. In each matchup, the higher seed will have home-ice advantage. The winners of the two semifinal matchups will square off in the Stanley Cup Final.

Some of the divisions haven’t finalized their seeding yet, but here’s a quick look at the seeds as of May 11.

MassMutual East

  1. Pittsburgh Penguins
  2. Washington Capitals
  3. Boston Bruins
  4. New York Islanders

Discover Central

  1. Carolina Hurricanes
  2. Florida Panthers
  3. Tampa Bay Lightning
  4. Nashville Predators

Scotia North

  1. Toronto Maple Leafs
  2. Edmonton Oilers
  3. TBA*
  4. TBA*

*will be either the Winnipeg Jets or Montreal Canadiens

Honda West

  1. TBA**
  2. TBA***
  3. TBA****
  4. St. Louis Blues

**Will be either the Colorado Avalanche or Vegas Golden Knights
***Will be either the Avalanche, Golden Knights or Minnesota Wild
****Will be either the Avalanche or Wild