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NHL playoffs and Stanley Cup explained

The Stanley Cup is one of the most iconic prizes in sport. The winner is decided by a thrilling best of seven championship series at the end of the NHL playoffs. Below we tell you everything you need to know about the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs.

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How the Stanley Cup playoffs work

Even if you are not overly familiar with hockey, you have probably heard of the Stanley Cup . It is the mammoth trophy handed out to the winner of the National Hockey League’s post-season tournament. It involves 16 teams that have qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs via their regular season form. Each playoff round is played on a best-of-seven game basis, with the eight winning sides from the first round moving forward to the quarterfinals and so forth. For the history buffs amongst you, the trophy gets its moniker from Lord Stanley of Preston, who presented the original trophy back in 1893.

What are the Stanley Cup playoffs?

The NHL is made up four divisions: the Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central and Pacific. The Central and Pacific divisions make up the Western Conference, while the Atlantic and Metropolitan both fall into the Eastern Conference. Each year, eight teams each from both conferences make the Stanley Cup playoffs. These 16 teams playoff in an elimination tournament with each round taking place over a best-of-seven series. The top three sides from each division during the regular season make it into the playoffs.

The other two spots in each conference are taken up by the next two sides with the best regular season form, regardless of their division. Those four places are known as the wild card entries. The top seed in each division plays one of the wild card teams from their conference. The division winner with the highest points tally plays the wildcard side with the lowest in that conference. Meanwhile, the second and third seeds in each division face each other in the other first round ties.

Home-ice advantage through the first two rounds goes to the team that placed higher in the regular-season standings. However, in the Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final, home-ice advantage goes to the team that had the better regular-season record, regardless of the teams' final standing in their respective divisions.

Each series is played in a 2-2-1-1-1 home/away format. Here, the side with home advantage plays the first two games on home-ice and the next two away. If the fifth, sixth and seventh game are needed, the alternate from home, to away, and back home.

How many teams qualify for the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs?

The 16 best teams from the regular season qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs, with eight teams from each conference making up the field. Those 16 teams comprise of the three teams ranked the highest in each division and two other teams from each conference with the next best records.

In the NHL, when a team wins a game, it is awarded two points. In an 82 game regular season, a team would need around 98-100 points to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs. There is a maximum of 164 points on offer for an individual team.

The Montreal Canadiens holds the record for the best regular season in 1976-77, with a points tally of 132. That season they won 60 of the 80 games played during that portion of the season. They went on to sweep the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals 4-0.

The 2021/22 season hasn’t seen such dominance, but the Eastern Conference knew all its playoff competitors a few games in advance. The Western Conference had a little bit more intrigue, with the Wild Card placings only being determined by the final games of the regular season.

When do the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs start?

The 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs start on May 2, which is three days after the regular season ends. The average length of the postseason tournament is around 86 games, taking place over a span of 57 days. Tampa Bay Lightning is the reigning Stanley Cup Champions, having defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 in last year’s finals.

One element of the playoffs which can be quite confusing is the placement of the wild card teams after the first round. There is no re-seeding, with any progressing wild card sides simply adopting the division of the side they defeat in the first round.

Thus, if a franchise from the Central Conference defeats the Pacific Division leader in the first round, they play the winner of the Pacific’s 2-3 series. Because of Covid-19 issues, last year’s finals were the first to ever be played in July.

Stanley Cup winners 1981 - 2021

YearTeam
2021Tampa Bay Lightning
2020Tampa Bay Lightning
2019St. Louis Blues
2018Washington Capitals
2017Pittsburgh Penguins
2016Pittsburgh Penguins
2015Chicago Blackhawks
2014Los Angeles Kings
2013Chicago Blackhawks
2012Los Angeles Kings
2011Boston Bruins
2010Chicago Blackhawks
2009Pittsburgh Penguins
2008Detroit Red Wings
2007Anaheim Ducks
2006Carolina Hurricanes
2005Season canceled due to the 2004–05 NHL lockout
2004Tampa Bay Lightning
2003New Jersey Devils
2002Detroit Red Wings
2001Colorado Avalanche
2000New Jersey Devils
1999Dallas Stars
1998Detroit Red Wings
1997Detroit Red Wings
1996Colorado Avalanche
1995New Jersey Devils
1994New York Rangers
1993Montreal Canadiens
1992Pittsburgh Penguins
1991Pittsburgh Penguins
1990Edmonton Oilers
1989Calgary Flames
1988Edmonton Oilers
1987Edmonton Oilers
1986Montreal Canadiens
1985Edmonton Oilers
1984Edmonton Oilers
1983New York Islanders
1982New York Islanders
1981New York Islanders

Who are the most successful teams in the Stanley Cup?

Despite losing last year’s finals, the Montreal Canadiens are the side with the best record in the NHL playoffs. Since the competition began, all the way back in 1915, they have managed to win 24 titles. They have also appeared in the final 35 times. Last year’s finals’ appearance was their first since 1993 though.

The next most successful side is also from Canada, with the Toronto Maple Leafs winning the competition 14 times. The most successful team from the USA is the Detroit Red Wings, who have 11 Stanley Cup victories to their name.

When is the Stanley Cup final?

The Stanley Cup Finals are expected to take place at some point in June, depending on the length of the playoff series. Like the other rounds, they will be played out over a best-of-seven game series between the winners of the Eastern and Western Conference finals.

The pre-playoff favorites are Colorado Avalanche and the Florida Panthers, with defending champions Tampa Bay Lightning next in the betting.

Which player has the most Stanley Cup wins?

Henri Richard holds the honour of having the most Stanley Cups wins. The former Montreal Canadien player lifted the trophy 11 times during his 20 season career. His first NHL win came in 1956, with his last in 1973. The centre has since, who passed away in 2020, is known as one of the greatest players to ever skate. There are no current players close to his record. Seven active players own three Stanley Cup Rings, which represents the most that any of today’s players hold.

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We've covered all bases with our Stanley Cup coverage this year. If you think you're ready to take the advice of our expert hockey handicapper, you can check out our free Stanley Cup picks.

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How to bet on the NHL Stanley Cup

The 2022 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs are upon us. The famous trophy is one of the oldest and most cherished prizes in sport. The Cup was first awarded in 1893, and today, the tension and excitement around predicting the Stanley Cup winner is better than ever. We've put together all the most relevant Stanley Cup 2022 information for you below.

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