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

For the first time this season, the Eastern Conference playoff picture remains unchanged week over week. Teams are buckled into their respective positions, maintaining the status quo as we head into the second half of the season. 

That’s bad news for teams hoping to catch the Boston Bruins atop the standings. The B’s are on an impressive 8-0-2 run, solidifying their status as the best the NHL has to offer. Nevertheless, the Pittsburgh Penguins could be a tough postseason matchup for the Bruins. Pittsburgh has a unique combination of skill and experience, rivaling the Bruins’ composition. 

The Carolina Hurricanes have a little more breathing room in pursuing their third straight division title. Analytically, this would be a terrible matchup for the New York Rangers. The Broadway Blueshirts have negative relative metrics in scoring and high-danger chances, while the Canes rank as one of the best in the league. The Rangers need to tighten up their defensive zone play if they want to get serious about a Stanley Cup run. 

We’ve seen some comically high-scoring games this year, which could be a preview of what to expect if the New Jersey Devils and Washington Capitals meet in the first round. They are two of the highest-scoring teams in the conference and would make for an entertaining seven-game series. 

At this point, the Toronto Maple Leafs meeting the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round appears as certain as death and taxes. Both teams are cemented into their positions as the second and third-best teams in the division. As we all know, the regular season success means nothing if the Leafs can’t get past the Bolts for their first playoff win since 2004. 

Western Conference

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

There’s been slightly more movement in the Western Conference, but still not a lot. The Vegas Golden Knights overtook the Dallas Stars for the top spot, setting up a potential divisional clash with the Edmonton Oilers. These teams meet three more times this season. Although it could serve as a preview of what to expect come April, it could also prevent the Oilers from remaining in the final wild-card spot. 

As a result of the Golden Knights’ move up the board, the Stars would be relegated to the top wild-card team, currently the Calgary Flames. The Darryl Sutter-led bunch got off to a slow start but has turned things up over their recent schedule. The Flames have won six of their past ten, with two of their four losses coming in overtime. Still, they have only a one-point lead over the Oilers, both of whom are being chased by the Colorado Avalanche with games in hand. 

The Los Angeles Kings had a character win over the Golden Knights earlier this week, closing the gap on the division frontrunners. With less than 40 games to play, the Kings sit only four points back of Vegas for the first seed. For now, they have a four-point cushion over the Seattle Kraken for the second spot, but Seattle has five games in hand. The Pacific Division playoff race is worth monitoring closely, as positions could fluctuate nightly. 

The Central Division playoff picture remains unchanged, with the Winnipeg Jets projected to host the Minnesota Wild in the conference quarterfinals. Home ice could be the advantage that carries the Jets further into the playoffs this year. Winnipeg is 16-6-0 in their friendly confines this season, easily the most wins of any Western Conference team.