In a word – excitement. If you like regular-season hockey, you’re going to love the playoffs. If you haven’t tried hockey yet, now is the best time!
The NHL Playoffs take the natural intensity of hockey and ramp it up. The effects become more concentrated the further into the playoffs teams get. Studies have shown that third-round playoff matches are 75 times more intense than first-round… ok, there haven’t been any studies. Try it for yourself, though, and see if that’s not true!
Plus, the NHL has the coolest trophy in sports – the Stanley Cup. This is an actual cup as a trophy on which every winning team member has had his name engraved. No other sport has a tradition like that.
So, let’s see how it all works.
How the Playoffs Work
So, there’s always an East vs. West component. In fact, up until this year, that’s all there was – Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference. Teams in each conference would play against each other the majority of the times in the regular season then would face each other in the playoffs according to those records.
Never mind the specifics because it’s not like that anymore. There are still Eastern and Western Conferences. However, the two conferences are now divided into two divisions each. The Pacific and Central Divisions make up the Western Conference and the Metropolitan and Atlantic Divisions make up the Eastern Conference.
The Western divisions are made up of seven teams each, while the Eastern divisions are comprised of eight. Teams within a division play each other five times. They play their conference rivals three times but only see teams from the other conference twice.
Ok, these new divisions make the playoffs a little tricky. In each division the three top teams are guaranteed playoff berths. The number-two and number-three teams face each other, with number-two having home ice advantage. That’s the easy part.
Within the conference, the top two teams who did not make the playoffs directly get entered as wild cards (numbers seven and eight in the conference). That means a division may have as many as five teams in the playoffs while another only has the original three. (That happened this year in the west – five teams made it from the Central Division.)
Stay with me, because it gets wonky again. Numbers two and three in a division play against each other. Everybody else gets seeded according to their conference placement. Don’t ask me why – it might be a Canadian thing, or it might be a “too many beers” thing.
So, the team with the best record in the conference plays the worst wild card team. The team that won the other division plays the best wild card team. Everybody else is playing their division rivals.
Don’t worry if you didn’t get that – no one except NHL.com gets that. Just check out the standings. All you need to remember is these are best-of-seven tournaments, so the team that gets to four wins first gets to advance.
Oh, one more thing you need to know – there are four rounds of playoffs. This’ll be going on until mid-June.
One more last little tidbit – the hockey game keeps going until there’s a winner. Overtime is the same length as a period, 20 minutes. The longest game on record went six overtimes – they played the equivalent of three full hockey games. NHL Playoffs are not for the faint of heart.
2014 NHL Playoff Match-Ups
Ok, maybe if you’d gotten to see the bracket ahead of time, the above explanation would have made more sense… or maybe not. Anyway, here’s what to look for in each best-of-seven series. (Cuties to look for will be in a later post – sorry!)
Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars: Offensive hockey. I don’t mean the kind of offensive that’s not fit for ladies – I mean, both teams are fast and like to score. Look for fast-paced games.
San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings: Puck stinginess. Both teams really like to hold onto the puck – except the Sharks really like to shoot the puck, too. (Anze Kopitar on the Kings is the only Slovenian-born hockey player in the NHL – they only have seven ice rinks in the entire country of Slovenia!)
Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild: Look for the Avalanche to win. (Sorry – my team.) Seriously, the Colorado Avalanche play exciting hockey – they’re known as the Cardiac Kids. Minnesota plays like maple syrup in one of their own winters — sloooooooooowwwwwwwwww.
St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks are the reigning Stanley Cup champs. The Blues are bruisers. Look for some offensive hockey – and this time I do mean the kind that’s not fit for polite society. (Knocked out teeth anyone?)
Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings: Bruisers of the east – both teams. Everyone hates the Red Wings, and the Boston Bruins are known as bullies. They are also heavy favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Montreal Canadiens: Look for rabid Canadian fans – the Canadiens (the spelling is a Canadian thing) are the only team from Canada to make it into the playoffs this year. And the Lightning leapfrogged the Canadiens to win home ice advantage. Seriously, this is the only match-up that might see fighting amongst fans.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets: Look for the Penguins to steam-roll the Blue Jackets. The Penguins are an extraordinarily talented team with one of the best players ever in Sidney Crosby. The Blue Jackets don’t match up – unless Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has a moment. He occasionally goes walkabout from his crease at the wrong time…
New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers: Look for good, old-fashioned East-coast hockey. If you want to know what traditional hockey really is, watch some games from this series. “Blood, sweat, tears” and a really hot goalie – in both senses of the word. (But that’ll be a Man Candy post.)
Guys and gals, sports fans and non, get ready for playoff hockey. It’s the most fun you can have on ice – guaranteed!