How do the NHL playoffs work? 2023

The NHL playoffs are one of the finest sporting events. Any sports lover must watch them. They do have their peculiarities and things that a fan needs to be aware of to fully understand what is happening. So, what happens in the NHL playoffs? When will the NHL playoffs start? 

Well, the NHL playoffs include 16 clubs. Four teams are eligible to be big hitters, leaving 12 clubs in the postseason bracket based on their league and region. Then a club must win 4 matches of a best-of-seven series to advance; the losing team is eliminated.

Let’s move further to get detailed information about the NHL playoffs!

When do the playoffs start?

The NHL playoffs for the 2021–22 year begin on Monday, May 2. The COVID pandemic has delayed the regular timetable, so this is later than normal. Thus, NHL playoffs typically begin on Saturday, January 14, 2023.


How many games are in the hockey playoffs?

The NHL playoffs consist of 4 phases, with a best-of-seven game format for each of them. To proceed to the following series, each club must win four games. There will be a minimum of four matches and a maximum of 7 matches in each round.

A squad must win all 16 games to compete for the Stanley Cup. In as little as 16 games or as many as 28 games, they can accomplish this.

There are 16 teams in the playoffs when they begin, and each round has the following number of teams:

  • Round 1 Conference Quarterfinals – 16 teams
  • Round 2 Conference Semifinals – 8 teams
  • Round 3 Conference Finals – 4 teams
  • Round 4 Stanley Cup Finals – 2 teams

How are the hockey playoffs set up?

16 of the 32 NHL clubs will proceed to the playoffs. You must first be aware of how the clubs are organized into leagues and regions and how this affects who moves to the playoffs to understand how the playoffs are organized.

Conferences, Divisions, Wild Cards

Below are the details of conferences, divisions, and Wild Card: 


Eastern Conference and Western Conference are the two divisions into which the 32 clubs are organized.


The NHL has a total of 4 groups, with two divisions in each Conference. The Pacific Division and Central Division are in the Western Conference, while the Metropolitan Division and Atlantic Division are in the Eastern Conference.

Wild Cards

Along with the six clubs who qualified in their various divisions, each conference will also feature two wild card clubs. The two clubs (outside of the six who qualified through the divisions) with the next-highest number of points in the championship standings are the wild card groups. 

We are now prepared to examine the structure of the hockey playoffs:

A wild card club is put into the first two stages of the playoffs, which are based on regions and can come from either their region or the other division in their conferences.

In the first round of the playoffs:

  • A wild card club will challenge the divisional winner
  • The second and third-place teams will face off

In the second round of the playoffs:

  • The first-round regional playoff series champions will compete against one another

In the third round (Conference Finals) of the playoffs:

  • The divisional playoff champions will compete against one another

In the fourth round (Stanley Cup Finals) of the playoffs:

  • Each Conference’s champion will compete for the Stanley Cup

Now I am going to give an example to make it clear:

  • The winners of the Central and Pacific divisions are Colorado and Calgary, respectively. Because Colorado has more goals than Calgary, Colorado will face the Wild Card club with the fewest points, while Calgary will face the Wild Card club with the most points.
  • The Central Division’s third-place club will take on the club’s second-place team.
  • The Pacific Division’s third-place squad will take on the division’s second-place club.
  • Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars are the two clubs who didn’t make it through winning a divisional place but have the next-highest scores in the league.

When you will put together all these things, the following results will be achieved:

Round 1 Divisional playoff through the Central Division:

  • The Dallas Stars will take on the Colorado Avalanche
  • St. Louis Blues will play the Minnesota Wild

In Round 2, the league champions from above will face off.

Round 1 Divisional playoff through the Pacific Division:

  • Nashville Predators will face the Calgary Flames 
  • Los Angeles Kings will take on the Edmonton Oilers

In Round 2, the league champions from above will face off.

To determine who qualifies for the Stanley Cup Finals, the Round 2 series champions will face off in the Round 3 Western Conference Finals. In the Eastern Conference part of the playoff bracket, all of the preceding events will also take place.

Below are some notes about the playoff bracket: 

  • Colorado, the Wild Card club from the Central Division, traveled to play the Division Winner Calgary Flames.
  • Colorado defeated Calgary before taking on the champion of the other Pacific Division playoff series, San Jose.
  • Columbus, who switched leagues as well, defeated the Atlantic Division champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the end.
  • St. Louis faced San Jose, who had moved from the Pacific Division playoff bracket, after leaving the Central Division tournament.
  • Stanley Cup winner St. Louis

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Do hockey playoffs reseed?

The playoffs for hockey don’t repopulate. Before playing the winner of the other divisional in the Conference finals, each club must win games through their region.

Do hockey playoffs reseed?

The one choice available to you at each stage is to take on the club whose series score matches how the playoff tournament was first set up. So, home ice advantages and a further home match in the playoffs will go to the club from the preseason with the most points between the two clubs.

How does overtime work in the playoffs?

The rules for overtime in the playoffs are different from regular-season overtime. If the sides are still equal after 5 minutes of overtime in the final’s series, there will be a shootout. 

The playoffs are scrapped for this version. If the clubs are still equal after standard in the playoffs, there will be a usual 15-minute halftime before another 20-minute session. Once one team has scored, the game is done.

How many periods are in the playoffs?

There is no limit to how many intervals can be placed. The procedure for playoff hockey is to have another interval and then put on an extra overtime period if nobody tallies by the completion of the first extra period. Until someone scores, this pattern will continue.

Are there shootouts in the hockey playoffs?

The NHL hockey playoffs don’t use shootouts. If a game goes into extra time, it will proceed with 20-minute overtime sessions until one team has scored.


To break ties, the shootout was added to the NHL regular season in 2005–2006. In the NHL, there was a desire to stop matches from being knotted. Some people regard it as a contest of technical brilliance and would prefer that it not even be included in the NHL regular season. 

The majority of fans seem to prefer shootouts to determine games during the regular season. The inclusion of the shootout in hockey playoffs is not particularly popular.

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When do the hockey playoffs end?

Every year, the first or second week of June marks the completion of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Stanley Cup was not presented in 2020 until September 28th. Thus, the Stanley Cup was presented in 2021 on July 7th.

Here are the completion dates of the previous five Stanley Cups for comparison’s sake:

  • 2019: June 12, 2019
  • 2018: June 7, 2018
  • 2017: June 11, 2017
  • 2016: June 12, 2016
  • 2015: June 15, 2016

The Stanley Cup Finals might end on June 30th, 2022, which is the earliest possible date. The Stanley Cup finals in 2023 should finish by the middle of June since the NHL intends resuming to a more “regular” timetable for the 2022–23 season.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many games are in the first round? Are playoffs best of 5 or best of 7?

NHL playoff matches are best-of-seven, hence there can only be a total of seven matches in the initial round. The first club to four victories in a row will take the round and move to the next stage.

When did the NHL go to the best of 7 games?

Previously, the NHL’s initial round of the playoffs consisted of a best-of-five series. However, in 1986–1987, the NHL switched to a best–of–seven formats.

What month are the hockey playoffs?

The months of April, May, and June are known as the “playoff months” since that’s when the Stanley Cup playoffs are held.

Conclusion: How do the NHL playoffs work?

The Eastern and Western conferences each have eight clubs that participate in the playoffs. These Eastern Conference teams are eligible: Florida Panthers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Carolina, Hurricanes, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Washington Capitals. These teams have already secured a playoff scenario: the Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota, Wild, and Edmonton Oilers.

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