You’ll be hard-pressed to find a league with a more complex system of determining the final standings and seeding for the playoffs than the NHL.
Teams get two points for a win, one point for a loss in overtime or a shootout, and zero points for a loss in regulation.
The system is fairly new since the NHL didn’t begin using shootouts to determine a winner until 2005. Prior to that, if neither team scored during overtime the game was ruled a tie.
Now, if the teams are even after 60 minutes of regulation, they head to a five-minute overtime. The NHL changed the overtime to 3-on-3 (three skaters and one goalie on the ice for each team) in order to create more open space for the players to score.
Unlike in regulation when players are subtracted from the penalized team, in overtime they are added to the opponent. So if a penalty is committed, play goes from 3-on-3 to 4-on-3.
Overtime is sudden death so any goal ends the game. If neither team can net a goal during overtime, the game is decided with a shootout.
Some feel the shootout is a poor way to declare a winner and label it as "gimmicky." Proponents of the shootout argue it is exciting and allows a winner to be declared. Here are the rules:
• Each team selects three players, who each get a shot at scoring 1-on-1 versus the opponent’s goaltender.
• The teams alternate turns, with the skater starting at center ice, and attempting to score a breakaway goal on the goalie.
• If the teams are still tied after three attempts, the shootout will continue one round at a time until a winner is decided.
When the 82-game regular season comes to an end, 16 teams, or eight from each conference, begin the Stanley Cup playoffs. The tiebreakers for teams finishing with the same number of points are as follows:
1. Wins not including shootouts.
2. Head-to-head games
3. Goals scored to goals against differential
The top three teams in each of the four divisions clinch playoff spots, making up 12 of the 16 postseason spots. After that, two wildcards from each conference are selected. The wildcard spots are given to the top two remaining teams in each conference regardless of division.
The playoff broken into four separate parts — one for each division. The first place team in each division receives the No. 1 seed in their divisional playoff. The second and third place teams get the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds and play each other in the first round. The No. 4 seeds go to the two wild cards in each conference. The wild card team with the better record plays the No. 1 seed with a lower record.
Playoffs are determined by a best-of-seven series for four rounds — the conference quarterfinals, semifinals and finals, and the Stanley Cup finals. The higher-seeded team hosts the first, second, fifth and seventh games.
Winners move on to the next round and play the winner of the series on the other side of their bracket. Since 2014 the teams no longer reseed after each round. Whichever team can grind its way to 16 wins gets to hoist the coveted Stanley Cup in mid-June.