2024 NHL® Playoffs: Guide to Seeding & Rules

The NHL® Playoffs are an annual best-of-seven elimination tournament to decide the winner of that NHL® season. Also known as the Stanley Cup® Playoffs, the top 16 teams of the regular NHL® season compete every spring to win the league and take home the coveted Stanley Cup®.

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How Do the NHL® Playoffs Work?

The NHL® Playoffs begin shortly after the NHL® regular season, with 16 teams competing for the Stanley Cup®. The NHL® Playoffs consist of the top three teams from each division (Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central, Pacific) and four wild card teams. The wild card teams are decided upon by the next two best teams in each conference (Eastern, Western). Eight teams from each conference will be in the NHL® Playoffs; however, depending on the wild card spot, it is possible for one division to have five teams while the other has three teams in the NHL® Playoffs.

Seeding is determined by the number of regular season wins. If teams are tied, a specific criteria will be looked at, such as most regulation wins (excluding overtime and shootouts), most regulation and overtime wins (excluding shootouts), most wins overall, most points in games between the tied teams, differential between points scored and points allowed between the teams and teams with the most goals.

If the two teams are still tied, a one-game playoff will be scheduled to determine home-ice advantage. In the first round, the number one seed of the conference is paired up with the team with the lowest wild card spot, leaving the other wild card spot to play the winner of the other division. Then, the number two and number three seeded teams in each division are paired up.

NHL® Playoffs are a best of seven series. The home-ice advantage goes to the team with the higher seed and the games are played in a 2-2-1-1-1 format. This format means the team with the higher seed will host games one, two, five, and seven, while the lower seed will host games three, four and six.

The winning teams of the First Round of the NHL® Playoffs play the other winning team in their division in the Second Round. The winners of the Second Round play in the Conference Finals, and the winner of the Conference Finals play in the Stanley Cup® Final.

There is no reseeding in the Stanley Cup® Final; therefore, the team with the higher seed at the beginning of the playoffs will receive the home ice advantage.

Rule Changes for the NHL® Playoffs

The regular season rules during regulation remain the same during the NHL® Playoffs. However, overtime is completely different during the playoffs.

In the regular NHL® season, overtime consists of a five-minute, 3v3 sudden-death period. If neither team scores during the five-minute period the game goes into a shootout. In the NHL® Playoffs, overtime is a 20-minute, 5v5 sudden-death period. If neither team scores during the first overtime period it will go to a second, then a third, etc., until a team scores.

NHL® Playoff FAQs

How many teams will make the NHL® Playoffs?

Sixteen teams make the NHL® Playoffs. The three top teams from each division make the playoffs, along with the next two best teams (known as the wild card teams) from each conference.

How many rounds are in the NHL® Playoffs?

There are four rounds in the NHL® Playoffs: the 1st Round, the 2nd Round, the Conference Finals, and the Stanley Cup® Final.

Who won the Stanley Cup® in 2023?

The Vegas Golden Knights® won the 2023 Stanley Cup® when they defeated the Florida Panthers® 4-1. For additional previous champions, see our list of past NHL® Stanley Cup winners.

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