If you’re a hockey fan, you’ve probably heard of the playoffs. They’re what happens at the end of each season that determines who the best team is. It’s when teams are separated into two groups of four, and play a brand new round of games to determine a new champion.
While there’s nothing wrong with the concept of the NHL playoffs – they’re arguably the most exciting time of the regular season – there’s a lot more to them than meets the eye. So let’s dive into a primer on what exactly are the NHL playoffs and how they work.
The National Hockey League is the premier professional ice hockey league in North America. It’s been around since 1917 and is currently made up of 30 teams, with four in each conference. In each division, there are a bunch of teams that play against each other, with the top four teams from each conference qualifying for the playoffs. Teams are awarded points based on their win-loss record, and at the end of the season, the team with the most points is declared the NHL champion.
How Do Playoffs Work?
The NHL playoffs aren’t set in stone. They’re actually a part of a regular season that lasts for 82 games. After the season ends, the top four teams in each division – as well as the team with the third-most points overall – qualify for the playoffs. The playoffs begin with a Divisional Round that sees the eight teams in each division battle it out for four spots in the following round.
The first round is called the Preliminary Round, and it takes the form of a four-team, two-game series between the teams tied for the fourth and fifth seeds in each division. After these Games, the Divisional Round begins, and it’s here where the meat of the tournament kicks in. The next round, which is called the Conference Quarterfinals, starts with a sudden-death, four-team mini-tournament between the four remaining teams in each division. This is followed by a two-game series between the winners of each round.
The top four teams in each conference battle it out in the ensuing Conference Semifinals, where they’re joined by the other four teams, resulting in a 10-team playoff group. After a series of games, the conference champions are crowned and the Final Four games are upon us. This is the culmination of the entire season for the NHL. The last four games of the Eastern Conference Final are head-to-head, winner take all, with the Stanley Cup champion being the overall league champ.
The Western Conference Final is a bit of a different story. Rather than having the top four teams compete for the right to go to the following round and fight for the Conference championship, the top two teams in each division race for the right to play for the Stanley Cup. The teams that earn the most points in the regular season play a total of seven games, with the top three teams after the first round winning a playoff berth. The next round, which is called the Conference Semifinals, is an eight-team, two-game round robin tournament, where the winners move on to play in the Final.
What Are The Key Differences Between The Eastern And Western Conferences?
One of the most significant differences between the Eastern Conference and Western Conference is how the teams qualify for the playoffs. In the Eastern Conference, the top four teams in each division qualify, while in the Western Conference, the top two teams in each division qualify. The top four teams in each conference qualify for the postseason, with the exception of the first-placed team in the Atlantic Division, which has the potential to win the Stanley Cup. So even though the NHL is a “best of seven” series, it really isn’t. The best of four is more like it.
Who Are The Favorites To Win The Stanley Cup?
While the regular season is not yet over, it’s already safe to say that the Vegas Golden Knights are going to be favorites to win the Stanley Cup. With the league’s best record, a bevy of impressive wins and a run through the playoffs so far, Marc-Andre Fleury’s crew of skilled teammates and coaches have what it takes to bring home the gold.
Fleury, a three-time Stanley Cup champion, is the league’s all-time leader in wins with 931. He also holds the record for most playoff wins, with 126. The Golden Knights are currently one game away from hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup for the first time in team history.
The Most Promising Young Players
Another exciting component of the 2018–19 NHL season is the potential to see some of the league’s top young players take the ice. A big part of the intrigue surrounding the young stars is the hype surrounding their superstar linemates. While they may not have reached the levels of superstition that some of the league’s more famous players have, the young men training to be hockey stars certainly aren’t lacking in personality or excitement.
One to keep an eye on is Pierre-Luc Dubois, a hulking 6’4″, 215-pound center who plays for the Columbus Blue Jackets. At just 21 years old, Dubois has already amassed a lot of experience – he played in 41 games this season, adding a goal and four assists along with 385 penalty minutes. He also served as an alternate captain this year for the Blue Jackets.
Another exciting piece of young talent is Logan Brown, a wily left winger with the New York Islanders. The 21-year-old is a former first-round pick of the Islanders, and after a slow start to his career, he’s finally starting to blossom. A natural leader, Brown has taken on a more defined role on his team this year, serving as an alternate captain. He led all rookies in playoff goals with three, and he also chipped in with two assists in Round One of the NHL Playoffs.
What Do The Playoffs Mean For The Season?
The 2018–19 NHL season is already starting to wind down, and with it, the excitement and anticipation for the playoffs. While there are no guarantees, anything can happen in the NHL playoffs. It’s a brand new season, and just because the regular season is over, it doesn’t mean that you can’t surprise yourself or others with a great performance.
So as the season draws to a close, fans should remember to stay patient and have fun. Playoffs aren’t just for the better-half. You’ll have all October and November to look forward to.