November 22, 2022

How does the NHL playoff draw work? Explain the hockey playoff format

The traditional NHL playoff format has been in place for a few seasons, but it’s making a comeback for the 2022 playoffs.

Sixteen teams are vying for the Stanley Cup this season, with the top three teams in each division and two wild card teams making the playoffs in each conference.

Last year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHL realigned its division and ensured the top four teams in each division qualified for the playoffs. That’s why the Stanley Cup Finals featured a unique matchup between the Lightning and the Canadiens, two teams normally in the Eastern Conference who would never meet in the Finals.

In 2020, the NHL moved to a 24 team bubble format due to the pandemic cut short the regular season.

Now the normality of the playoff system is back and the anticipation is running high. Here’s a reminder of this year’s playoff format.

MORE: When does the NHL playoffs start? Key dates, times, TV channels and more to know

How many teams make the playoffs?

A total of 16 teams are in the NHL playoffs – eight from the Eastern Conference and eight from the Western Conference.

For each conference, the top three teams in each division are guaranteed playoff spots, with the division winners earning the top two playoff spots. The bottom two spots go to the teams with the two best records among the rest of the field, meaning they can come from the same division.

How many rounds are there in the NHL playoffs?

There are four rounds in the Stanley Cup Playoffs – First Round, Second Round, Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Finals.

In the first round, the best team in the conference faces the second wild card team. The other division winner plays the other wild-card team. Team #2 from a division plays against team #3 from the same division.

After that, the teams are reseeded with the higher seed playing the lower seed in the second round. Then the bottom two teams from each conference play each other in the Conference Finals, and the winners of those series battle for the Stanley Cup in the Finals.

MORE: 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Photo: Matchups, Magic Numbers, Draft Order

How many games are there in a series?

Each series, regardless of round, will play a best-of-seven series, meaning the first team to win four games will advance to the next round.

Each series is played in a 2–2–1–1–1 format, which means the team with the best record plays games 1, 2, 5 and 7 in their arena, while their opponent hosts games 3 , 4 and 6. Only the first four games of the series are guaranteed, with games 5, 6 and 7 only being played if necessary.


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