For all but three teams the 2021 NHL regular season has drawn to a close. This means that the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs have arrived. Here is a look at the format, first-round start dates from and other important aspects of the playoffs.
The format for the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs is not completely different from the normal playoff schedule, but there are some key alterations. There will still be four rounds, each consisting of best-of-seven series. However, due to the set-up of the divisions, with eight teams instead of four, there will not be the traditional Conference Final to limit contenders from four to two.
Instead of taking the best from the East and West, the semi-final third round will use regular season standing to determine opponents. The team with the best regular season record will play the team with the worst and the second best will play the third best. For example, if the Colorado Avalanche, Carolina Hurricanes, Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders are all in the third round, the Avalanche (1) would play the Islanders (4) and the Hurricanes (2) would play the Oilers (3). This set-up also means that there will be no Conference Final trophies awarded, so the only hardware a team can go home with is the Stanley Cup itself.
Additionally, the set-up of divisions this year and their placement in the bracket means that matchups that were never before possible may be seen in the playoffs. For example, the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens, who are bitter rivals, could never face off in the final round in a normal year. This year, however, there could possibly be a Boston-Montreal Cup Final.
Some things will not change though. Rules on overtime will stay the same, so there no three-on-three or shootouts, only five-on-five until someone takes the lead. Additionally, the format of travel is, at this moment, set to remain the same. Games one and two take place at the higher seeded team’s rink and three and four at the lower. Games five, six and seven will rotate between rinks. If COVID-19 becomes a concern and travel is not possible, the NHL may return to the bubble format from the 2020 playoffs. It remains unclear what the plan is for carrying out games over the Canada-U.S. border.
The 16 teams that will enter the playoffs have all been determined. The first series, Bruins v. Capitals, will start on May 15 at 7:15 pm EST. The Islanders v. Penguins, Wild v. Golden Knights and Lightning v. Panthers series will start on May 16. May 17 brings the start of Predators v. Hurricanes and Blues v. Avalanche. The two North Division series, Oilers v. Jets and Canadiens v. Maple Leafs, will begin on May 19. The original prediction of the last possible date for the Stanley Cup Final was July 9, but since the playoffs are starting almost a week behind schedule, the actual date is probably later. A full schedule and additional information can be found here.
Other Things to Know
While the specific odds may vary, the Colorado Avalanche are currently the favorites to win the Stanley Cup this year. Colorado secured its position as the winningest team in the league on May 13 with a victory over the LA Kings. While they now carry the President’s Trophy curse, Colorado does have a strong team this season. The Vegas Golden Knights, Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning are also favorites this year, following Colorado closely in terms of odds.