How Does NHL Playoff Seeding Work?

NHL teams are seeded based on their performance during the regular season. Teams with the most points get the highest seeds. The top three teams from each division make the playoffs, and the four remaining spots go to the next highest-placing teams.

Making the playoffs is a goal that every NHL team has. It gives them a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup and shows that they are one of the better teams in the league. Playoff hockey is exciting, high-stakes, intense, and will keep you on the edge of your seat. 

Unfortunately, for new fans of the sport, how the playoffs are seeded can be confusing. This guide is going to take a look at how the NHL playoffs are seeded, as well as how the playoffs work.

Key Takeaways

  • NHL teams are seeded based on their performance in the regular season. The teams with the most points will get the highest seeds and the most favorable matchups throughout the playoffs.
  • 16 teams make the NHL playoffs. The 16 teams are made up of the top three teams in each of the four divisions, and then four wild card teams. These are the next two best teams from both the Eastern and Western Conference based on regular season points.
  • Playoff games are similar to the regular season when it comes to most rules, except for overtime. In the playoffs, there is no shootout, and games will go through as many overtime periods as needed to crown a winner.

How Does Playoff Seeding Work in the NHL?

As mentioned earlier, teams are seeded based on their performance in the regular season. The team with the most points in a conference will earn the first seed, the team with the second most will be the second seed, and so on.

If teams are tied on points at the end of the regular season, there are several tiebreakers that get used such as wins, head-to-head record, and goal differential. 

There are 16 teams in total that make the playoffs. This includes the top three teams from each division, with the remaining four spots going to the two next highest-placed teams in each conference, called the wild card teams.

How do the Playoffs Work?

In the first round, the division winner with the most points will get the number one seed and face off against the wild card team with the lesser record. The other division winner will take on the wild card team with a better record.

The second and third seeded teams in each division will take each other on in the first round within the bracket that is led by their division winner. This may sound confusing, but it is simple. Think of each division having its own section of the bracket, with a wild card team added.

For example, the Eastern Conference bracket will be made up of a section for the Metropolitan division and a section for the Atlantic division. In this example, let’s say the division winner from the Atlantic has more points than the division winner from the Metropolitan.

The division winner from the Atlantic would face off against the wild card team with the lesser record in the upper part of the bracket, with the second and third-place teams in the Atlantic facing off in the other series in this section of the bracket.

On the bottom of the bracket, one series will be the Metropolitan winner vs. the wild card team with the better record, and the other will be between the teams that finished second and third in the Metropolitan.

The exact same thing happens in the Central and Pacific divisions of the Western Conference. Each of these series is seven games, and there is no reseeding after each round. Each team will simply advance through the bracket until the last two teams are standing.

NHL Playoffs Overtime Rules

While the game of hockey that is played in the regular season may be a little less intense than playoff hockey, most of the rules are the same. That is, except for the overtime rules. In the regular season, games that are still tied after the five-minute overtime period go to a shootout.

But in the playoffs, there are no shootouts. Instead of games ending this way, teams will play as many overtime periods as needed to crown a winner. Some games may require multiple overtime periods before a team scores a goal and is declared the winner.

Another major change is that overtime in the playoffs is a 20-minute extra period, instead of the five-minute period that the NHL uses in the regular season. Also, while overtime in the regular season is played 3-on-3, in the playoffs it is 5-on-5, just like a regular period of hockey.

Final Thoughts

While the NHL playoffs are an undoubtedly exciting time for hockey fans, how the seeding and bracket works can be a little confusing. I hope that this guide has been able to help you learn more about how NHL teams are seeded during the playoffs.

Do you think the way the NHL handles its playoffs seeding today makes sense? Or would you rather see each round get reseeded? Let me know in a comment below!

About Kale
Being from Canada, hockey is essentially a way of life. I instantly fell in love with the game since I was being put on skates. From playing as a child (and the occasional street hockey game with friends today) to being a fan for over 20 years, I’m here to share my knowledge and passion for hockey. Email:

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