NHL Playoff Picture: NHL Playoff Bracket if Season Ended Today

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a hellscape. NHL teams have to run a gauntlet of seven-game series, needing to win five rounds to be crowned champion. The intensity is dialed up, and travel is relentless. That’s why playoff matchups are so critical to which teams advance to the next round. As part of our season-long NHL coverage, we’ll be keeping an eye on how playoff matchups evolve throughout the campaign.

NHL Playoff Picture: NHL Playoff Bracket if Season Ended Today

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Atlantic Division – Boston Bruins No. 2 Wild Card – Pittsburgh Penguins
No. 1 Metropolitan Division – Carolina Hurricanes No. 1 Wild Card – Washington Capitals
No. 2 Metropolitan Division – New Jersey Devils No. 3 Metropolitan Division – New York Rangers
No. 2 Atlantic Division – Toronto Maple Leafs No. 3 Atlantic Division – Tampa Bay Lightning

The top of the Eastern Conference standings remains stagnant as the top teams pull away from the lesser-thans. The Boston Bruins have lost just five games in regulation this season, only one of which has come on home ice. Irrespective of the opponent, that makes them a tough out in the postseason. As it stands now, the Pittsburgh Penguins would be tasked with knocking off the B’s in the opening round. Pittsburgh has dealt with a rash of injuries, but if they are healthy come playoff time, they could give Boston a run for its money. 

Nothing has changed below the Bruins in the Atlantic Division. The Toronto Maple Leafs hold a slim advantage over the Tampa Bay Lightning, setting up a potential rematch of last season’s conference quarterfinal. Over their past four postseason appearances, the Leafs have gone the full seven games in the first round of the playoffs. It seems unlikely they will buck that trend if they meet the Bolts again this season. 

In the other half of the Eastern Conference bracket, the Carolina Hurricanes have maintained their elite play and sit atop the Metropolitan Division. That sets up a potential matchup with the Washington Capitals, who have the fewest points of any playoff team over the past ten games. The Caps also haven’t won a playoff series since taking home the Stanley Cup in 2018, going 0-4 since. 

Lastly, the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers are holding steady in the second and third seeds in the Metropolitan Division. The Devils have closed the gap on the Canes for the division lead, but their play on home ice continues to hold them back. New Jersey is just 12-10-2 at the Prudential Center, which could be a bad omen for hosting a playoff series. The Rangers only need to snag one win as the visitors, and the Devils are giving them away. 

Western Conference

No. 1 Pacific Division – Vegas Golden Knights No. 1 Wild Card – Edmonton Oilers
No. 1 Central Division – Dallas Stars No. 2 Wild Card – Colorado Avalanche
No. 2 Pacific Division – Seattle Kraken No. 3 Pacific Division – Los Angeles Kings
No. 2 Central Division – Winnipeg Jets No. 3 Central Division – Minnesota Wild

The Western Conference is making up for the limited movement from their Eastern counterparts. In particular, the teams continue to battle for top spot in the Central Division. Currently, the Dallas Stars hold the advantage; however, their grip on the first seed is on the strength of a tiebreaker. It may be a disadvantage in claiming a division title as it could set up a meeting with the defending Stanley Cup Champion, Colorado Avalanche. The Avs moved back into a playoff berth for the first time in weeks and have several games in hand over their next closest competitors. 

Not a bad word will be said if the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild renew acquaintances in the postseason. The “Friendly” Manitobans would host their “Minnesota Nice” neighbors from the south in what could be the most polite playoff series in the history of the NHL. Still, two hockey-hungry fan bases wouldn’t take kindly to an early postseason exit.

Teams in the Pacific Division continue to fluctuate. Although the Vegas Golden Knights occupy the first seed, the Seattle Kraken have two games to make up one point and usurp the Knights for the division lead. For now, Seattle has a first-round matchup with the Los Angeles Kings, while the Golden Knights would battle it out with the Edmonton Oilers. However, all four teams are separated by just three points in the standings, meaning head-to-head contests carry so much more weight in the latter half of the season.