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 – New York Rangers
No. 2 Metropolitan Division – New Jersey Devils No. 3 Metropolitan Division – Washington Capitals
No. 2 Atlantic Division – Toronto Maple Leafs No. 3 Atlantic Division – Tampa Bay Lightning

The top half of the Eastern Conference has remained relatively constant over the past few weeks. The Boston Bruins are holding steady as the best team, leading the Atlantic Division and the conference. That gives them home-ice advantage over the second wild card team, currently occupied by the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens have games in hand over the teams ahead of them in the standings, which they should use to avoid a meeting with the B’s. 

The Carolina Hurricanes have the momentum of their namesake, winning 11 straight games and capturing points in 17 consecutive. That could set up a potential meeting with a division foe, as the Metropolitan Division is well-represented in the playoff hunt. As it stands now, the Hurricanes would need to get past the New York Rangers, whose 7-2-1 stretch has been vastly overshadowed by the Canes. 

The New Jersey Devils wish they could return to the heights of their 13-game winning streak. The Devils have just two wins over their previous ten outings, costing them valuable ground in the standings. A seven-game series against the Washington Capitals would be a nightmare scenario for the young Devils as they compete with one of the most seasoned teams in the league. 

It seems inevitable that the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning will face off in the opening round. Both teams are maintaining their position, with the Leafs in the driver’s seat of the Atlantic Division matchup. The Leafs were in the same spot last season, and we all know how that turned out. 

Western Conference

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

The Dallas Stars reign above the rest of the Western Conference for the first time this season. The Stars are 7-1-1 over their last nine games, meaning they would get the Edmonton Oilers in the conference quarterfinals if the playoffs started today. There would be no shortage of goals as two top-scoring teams go toe-to-toe over a seven-game series. 

The team the Stars passed in the standings, the Vegas Golden Knights, remains a threat no matter who they face. That spells trouble for the Seattle Kraken, who could be tasked with knocking off the Golden Knights. Seattle is light years beyond where other expansion franchises have been early in their existence, but there’s still a sizable gap between the Kraken and Golden Knights. 

One of the season’s biggest surprises has been the Los Angeles Kings’ success, pushing Vegas for the division lead. That could set up a poetic meeting with the Calgary Flames, as Darryl Sutter helped the Kings to Stanley Cup Championships in 2012 and 2014. 

Inclement weather has wreaked havoc across North America, but hockey fans in Manitoba are eagerly awaiting the next Winnipeg whiteout. The annual tradition in Winnipeg Jets games would be an unwelcome sight for the Minnesota Wild, who would need to steal at least one game in hostile territory to claim a series win. There might not be a more terrifying proposition than getting hit with a whiteout in April.