Welcome back for another edition of Hockey 101. Today’s lesson is all about the Stanley Cup playoffs and what you need to know about how these series of playoff matches come together. The Stanley Cup playoffs are the National Hockey League’s (NHL’s) season ending tournament. The playoff consists of four rounds with each series being determined based on which team wins the most games in a best of seven series, however, seven games don’t always need to be played.
Each series is played with a 2 (home)-2 (away)-1 (home)-1 (away)-1 (home) format. The team with home ice advantage is determined based on their record at the end of the 82-game regular season. The home team will host games 1, 2, 5, and 7, while their opponent would host games 3, 4, and 6. Games 5-7 would only be played if they are necessary. Series can wrap up in as few as four games as a sweep of the initial four games would not allow for their competitor to come back and win.
There are 16 total teams that participate in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Eight teams are represented from the Eastern Conference and eight from the Western Conference. It is the winner of each of the conferences that will meet for hockey’s ultimate prize: the Stanley Cup.
For the longest time, the playoff matchups were set up as follows: the #1 seed would take on the #8 seed, with 2-7, 3-6 and 4-5. The teams got their rankings based on their points they finished the regular season with but if you won your division, you would be ranked in the top three regardless.
Due to conference realignment a couple of years ago, there has been a new format that was put into place in 2014. While the two conferences (Eastern and Western) remain the same, the divisions in each conference have been reduced to two per each conference instead of three. For the West there’s the Central and Pacific divisions while in the East there is the Atlantic and Metropolitan division.
For each of the four divisions, the top three teams, based on their regular season record, advance to the playoffs. Now I know what you may be thinking if there’s supposed to be eight teams in each conference. “That’s six teams total for each conference but what about the other two?” The teams that didn’t make the cut for the top three in their respective divisions can still have a chance to participate in the postseason if they make one of the top two Wild Card spots.
This format means that the top team in the conference will face the second wild card team. In this case the Capitals, top of the Eastern Conference and Metropolitan Division, are taking on the Philadelphia Flyers, second in the Wild Card, in the first round. The other division winner will take on the first Wild Card team. That means the teams that finished second and third in each of the four divisions would face each other.
Here are the playoff matchups for round one. Let’s start with the Eastern Conference. We all know the Caps will take on the Flyers. The Florida Panthers, winners of the Atlantic Division, will play the New York Islanders (first in Wild Card). On the Metropolitan Division side, #2 Pittsburgh Penguins will face off against the #3 New York Rangers while the #2 Tampa Bay Lightning will take on the #3 Detroit Red Wings.
Over in the Western Conference the Dallas Stars clinched the top seed and they will take on the Minnesota Wild. The Anaheim Ducks, who won the Pacific Division, will play the Nashville Predators. The #2 St. Louis Blues will take on the defending Stanley Cup champion #3 Chicago Blackhawks for the Central Division the #2 Los Angeles Kings square up against #3 San Jose Sharks.
This reseeding and realignment from a couple of years ago that’s effective today makes the playoffs even tougher but it makes for extremely exciting hockey. Division rivals going head-to-head in just the first round of the playoffs makes for must see TV. In fact, in the second round things are likely to get more intense. You will likely have to play someone in your own division. In the Caps case, should they beat the Flyers they will take on the winner of the Rangers-Penguins series. That means either a chance at revenge from the last three playoff heartbreakers or a rematch between team captain’s Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.
Each of these 16 teams are all fighting for the coveted Stanley Cup, a lifetime dream for many of these players and their fans. The Cup is so much more than a trophy. Many of these players and their respective teams are not complete without adding a Stanley Cup win to their resumes. Just ask Alex Ovechkin and so many of the faithful Washington Capitals fans. It’s a dream that so many of us have had for such a long time. Perhaps the time is now. Let’s Go Caps. Welcome to the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
By Michael Marzzacco