How many NHL teams make the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Each season, NHL teams battle for a chance to lift the Stanley Cup over their heads. After the conclusion of the regular season, qualifying teams participate in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Seattle Kraken v Vegas Golden Knights
Seattle Kraken v Vegas Golden Knights / Candice Ward/GettyImages

NHL fans eagerly anticipate their favorite team making the playoffs. 32 teams fight for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs every season. After the regular season concludes, the playoffs commence. The playoff format features best-of-seven series in each round. In a match-up, the team that wins four games advances to the next round.

The playoffs consist of four rounds: the First Round, Second Round (sometimes referred to as the Conference Semifinals), Conference Finals, and Stanley Cup Final. Qualifying teams battle to bring home the Cup.

Breakdown of how many teams qualify for the playoffs

16 NHL teams qualify for the playoffs, meaning half of the teams make the cut. The top three teams from each division qualify, making up 12 spots in the playoffs. Therefore, each division: Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central and Pacific, are all represented by at least three teams. Eight teams from each conference qualify.

The remaining four spots in the playoffs are made up of wild card teams. These wild card spots are determined by two teams with the next highest number of points in the Eastern Conference and two from the Western Conference regardless of division.

The 16 teams that qualify participate in the first round of the playoffs. Eight teams advance to the second round, eliminating half of the field. Four teams move on to the Conference Finals with the chance to earn their Conference title. Two teams face off in the Stanley Cup Final, with one team winning the Stanley Cup.

In the first two rounds of the playoffs, home-ice advantage is decided by which team was higher in the regular season standings. In the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final, home-ice advantage is determined by regular season record regardless of division standings.

Every season, teams end up on the outside looking in. Some teams fall just short of qualifying for the postseason action. Some teams just barely punch a ticket and must face off against powerhouse division winners. Once the playoffs begin, it’s an entirely clean slate and anything can happen. Any of the 16 qualifying teams could end up being the one to raise the Cup.

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