2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: How the new format works

With its realignment this season, the NHL also ushers in a new playoff structure.

Apr 9, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; The Columbus Blue Jackets players celebrate after defeating the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Jerome Miron / USA TODAY Sports

With its realignment this season, the NHL also ushers in a new playoff structure.

So as the season winds down, just how does it work in terms of seeding -- and will it make any difference in matchups compared to the old format?

- 16 teams still make the playoffs in each conference

- The top three teams in each division (Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central and Pacific) earn 12 of the 16 spots

- The final four playoff berths are up for grabs among any division in each conference

-Whichever team finishes first in the conference (right now, the Bruins in the Eastern and Ducks in the Western) would still play the team with the eighth most amount of points, the second wild card

- The second division winner plays the first wild card entry

-Here's where it gets a little different now -- instead of the 3-6 seeds being slotted solely based on points, they are automatically set to face someone within the division. That means the second vs. third place teams in each division will make up two of the first round matchups in each conference.

- In the Eastern Conference, this could benefit the Rangers, Flyers or Blue Jackets. All three have less than the two current playoff teams in the Atlantic (Canadiens and Lightning). As it stands, Montreal and Tampa Bay have the third and fourth most points in the conference but would match up in the first round, whereas last year, Montreal would have been the third seed and likely facing one of those Metro clubs in the mix.

-In the Western Conference, the new system could be to the detriment of the Blues, Avalanche or Blackhawks. Last season, two of those three would have been in a race for the third seed with the San Jose Sharks to play the Los Angeles Kings who currently have ten less points. Instead, the winner of the Central between St. Louis, Colorado and Chicago will play a wild card but San Jose defaults to the matchup with the Kings as those two are currently the second and third place teams in the Pacific.

To sum it up, the playoff teams in the Atlantic and Central divisions have more points than those in the Metro and Pacific but the new system breaks it down so that at least one team from each division will reach the conference semifinals, or what they're calling division finals. This year, it could be to the advantage of the Jackets if they can catapult one of their Metro rivals.

A first-round tilt with either the Rangers or Flyers is much more appealing than facing the Bruins or Penguins.

Columbus Blue Jackets Ice Girls. Which ones are your favorites?

However, unlike in the old system, the Canadiens are not a potential first-round opponent for the Blue Jackets, no matter with how many points they finish.

It can all be a bit confusing but when it comes down to it the differences are relatively subtle and the Stanley Cup Playoffs should still be as dramatic as ever.


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