The Stanley Cup playoffs (French: Les séries eliminators de la Coupe Stanley) rules and format is a four round best of seven elimination tournament in the National Hockey League (NHL) that determines the league champion and Stanley Cup winner. Sir Frederick Arthur Stanley, Lord Stanley of Preston, donated the Stanley Cup in 1892, making it the oldest trophy competed by professional athletes in North America.
How Many Teams compete in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
There are two conferences in the NHL; The Eastern Conference and the Western Conference. Each Conference has two divisions. 16 teams from these two conferences compete in the Stanley cup. Each Conference has eight teams that qualify for the playoffs.
The first, second, and third-place teams in each of the four divisions directly qualified for the playoffs under the new playoff series system, which was implemented in 2014. Two more teams from each Conference, despite divisional affiliation, qualify for the playoffs by getting the highest point totals among the Conference’s remaining teams. These four teams are known as the wild cards.
The Stanley Cup playoffs are divided into four rounds.
In the First Round, the division leader with the best record in each Conference will face the wild card with the worst record, while the wild card with the better record will face the other division winner. The teams that finish 2nd and 3rd in each group will face off in the bracket led by the division champion.
In the Second Round, the first-round winners in each bracket face each other to decide the four participants in the Conference Finals.
Each round of the Stanley Cup playoffs match is a best of seven series. These series are played in a 2–2–1–1–1–1 format, where the team has the home-court advantage will be hosting games one, two, five, and seven and the opposition hosting games three, four, and six. The last three games are played only if necessary.
During the first two rounds, the home-ice advantage goes for the team that is higher in the regular-season standings.
The home-ice advantage of the Conference Final and the Stanley Cup Final would benefit the best regular-season team regardless of the final standings of the teams in their division.
If there is a case of two or more clubs are tied in points in the regular season, the standings of the clubs are decided in the following procedure:
- Only the greatest number of regulations wins. (As shown by the RW figure, this has been in use since the 2019–20 NHL season).
- The greater number of wins in regulation and overtime, except shootouts (used after the 2010–11 NHL season, as reflected by the ROW statistic).
- The most overall number of victories (including shootouts)
- The greatest number of points won in games against two or more tied teams.
- The greater the difference between goals for and against (including goals scored in overtime or credited for winning in shootouts) throughout the regular season. The DIFF column reflects this statistic.
- The most goals scored (including goals scored in overtime or credited for winning in shootouts) during the regular season. The GF column reflects this statistic.
- If two clubs are still tied on regulation wins, regulation and overtime win, total wins, points earned between the tied clubs (excluding the points earned and available in the first game played in the city of the club that had the greater number of home games in games between the two), regular-season goal differential, and regular-season goal scored, a one-game playoff is played under Stanley Cup playoff rules.
2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs Format
The NHL introduced a special structure for the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs during the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2019–20 season, with the top 12 teams from each conference qualifying. The top four teams in each conference met in a round-robin tournament to decide seeding in the First Round, while the next eight seeds in each Conference played a best-of-five series to determine who advanced to the First Round.
Stanley Cup Playoffs Format Changes in 2021
Because of the continued shutdown of the Canada–United States border, the league realigned into four teams and temporarily dissolved all conferences. In this format, only the top four teams from each division can advance to the playoffs.
The playoffs will continue to be the best-of-seven series in all four rounds. The first two rounds will compete in a 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 formats inside the division. In the Stanley Cup Semifinals, the four division winners will be re-seeded based on their regular-season point totals. The Stanley Cup Finals will be played between the winners of these two series.
Every year, as the championship trophy is presented to the winning team, a summer of celebration begins, with each of the organization’s players and employees spending 24 hours with the Cup – a tradition that no other sport can match.
The legacy and prestige of the Stanley Cup continue to live on in the dreams of hockey players and fans alike, surpassing all other championship cups in sports.