Stanley Cup Playoffs: Bracket, start date, schedule originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Of all the adjectives which can be used to describe the 2020-21 NHL season, “normal” certainly is not one of them. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, this year’s hockey campaign was shortened from the usual 82-game regular season to just a 56-game slate. Moreover, the league saw a complete overhaul of the division breakdown that pitted teams against each other more rigidly based on geographic locations (for example, all seven Canadian teams are in the ‘North’ division by themselves). Each of the other three divisions has eight teams each, with the Washington Capitals currently sitting in a playoff spot in the East Division.
In light of the COVID-19 outbreak that ran through the Vancouver Canucks organization and postponed eight of their games, the NHL announced in mid-April that the regular season would now end on May 16, eight days later than originally planned. Because of this postponement, the Stanley Cup Playoffs (originally scheduled to begin May 11) has been pushed back as well. The precise start date for the postseason has yet to be determined.
What could be most interesting about the 2021 NHL postseason, though, is the matchups. In non-COVID-affected years, eight teams from each conference would qualify for the playoffs, with the seventh- and eighth-ranked teams designated as wild cards. Following many leagues’ classic format, the winner of the Eastern Conference would play the winner of the West in the Stanley Cup Finals.
2021 is different. With the realignment of the divisions, the 2021 Stanley Cup Finals could see some whacky matchups. The top four teams in each division will make the playoffs, the No. 1 seed playing No. 4, the second-best team against No. 3, with the winners advancing to play each other. No wild cards. After these series, one team will be crowned the winner of their division. Then, yet another reshuffling will take place. The four teams that win their division will be re-seeded based on regular season point totals, then will be placed in a pool ranked 1-4. The top team will play No. 4, two and three pitted against each other, with the two winners playing in the Stanley Cup Final.
What does this mean? Well, it means the usual East vs. West Finals matchup is not guaranteed. Two teams in the geographical Eastern U.S. could play each other for a shot at the Cup, same with the West. Washington could play Carolina, Vegas could play Winnipeg, etc.
With the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning sitting at third place in the Central Division, their repeat is by no means a favorite. Teams that have been turning heads during the regular season, though, such as the Colorado Avalanche and Carolina Hurricanes, look eager to make a deep playoff run.
With all the new rules in place for the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, here’s everything you need to know:
2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs How to Watch
When: Date and Time TBD (No earlier than May 11)
TV: NBC, NBC Sports Network, CNBC, USA, NHL Network
Stream: NBC Sports App
2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs Bracket:
First Round (date and times TBD)
- East Division No. 1 vs. East Division No. 4
- East Division No. 2 vs. East Division No. 3
- Central Division No. 1 vs. Central Division No. 4
- Central Division No. 2 vs. Central Division No. 3
- West Division No. 1 vs. West Division No. 4
- West Division No. 2 vs. West Division No. 3
- North Division No. 1 vs. North Division No. 4
- North Division No. 2 vs. Central Division No. 3
Second Round (Division Finals)
- Winner of series 1 vs. winner of series 2
- Winner of series 3 vs. winner of series 4
- Winner of series 5 vs. winner of series 6
- Winner of series 7 vs. winner of series 8
Stanley Cup Semifinals
- Semifinalist No. 1 vs. Semifinalist No. 4
- Semifinalist No. 2 vs. Semifinalist No. 3
Stanley Cup Finals
- Winner of series 13 vs. winner of series 14