How The NHL Playoff Format Affects The Bruins

( Photo Credit: NHL.com )

By: Yanni Latzanakis  |  Follow Me On Twitter:  @yanlatz

We are about a month away from the best time of the year. The weather begins to get warmer, daylight savings, the return of Red Sox baseball, and of course, the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If the playoffs started today, the Bruins are the second seed in the NHL’s overall standings as well as the Atlantic Division. That means they get to play the Toronto Maple Leafs who are third in the Atlantic and fourth in the overall standings. Here is how that works and why it needs to be changed.

The Bruins continue to be one of the best teams in the NHL and have been soaring to the top of the NHL standings. Boston has become a top Stanley Cup contender from the East thanks in part to their 17-game point streak that they extended with a come-from-behind overtime victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on March fifth.

Before the 2013-2014 NHL season got underway, the NHL realigned to four divisions that moved the Blue Jackets and the Red Wings to the Eastern Conference and the Winnipeg Jets to the Western Conference and created the Pacific, Central, Metropolitan, and Atlantic, divisions. With this realignment, the NHL also changed the playoff format from Conference-based to division-based.

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With the NHL’s new playoff format, the thinking was to create more division matchups and result in more rivalries because teams are playing through their division until the Conference Finals. The top teams in each division will matchup with the wild card teams with the division leader with the most points playing the second wild card team and the other division leader playing the first wild-card team.

Then, the second seed will play the third seed in each division. If that wasn’t confusing enough for you, the point system and tie-breakers are a whole other story for another time.

If the playoffs were to start today, the matchups would be as follows:

Eastern Conference:

Tampa Bay Lightning – Montreal Canadiens

Boston Bruins – Toronto Maple Leafs

Washington Capitals – Pittsburgh Penguins

New York Islanders – Carolina Hurricanes

Western Conference:

Calgary Flames – Minnesota Wild

Nashville Predators – Dallas Stars

San Jose Sharks – Vegas Golden Knights

Winnipeg Jets – St. Louis Blues

That being said, the Bruins, who are having an incredible season, sitting at the second seed in the whole entire NHL would play the fourth seed in the whole entire league in the first round of the playoffs in the Toronto Maple Leafs. If the Bruins were to beat the Leafs again and the Tampa Bay Lightning advance past the Montreal Canadiens, the Bruins would meet the Lightning again in the second round. This would mean the Bruins would play the Eastern Conference third seed Maple Leafs in the first round and the first seed Lightning in the second round. This is extremely tough for the first two rounds of the playoffs for such a successful regular season team like the Bruins.

If the league still had the conference playoff format rather than their current divisional and wild-card format, The Bruins would be playing the seventh seed Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. Now, you could be saying that what is the difference in playing the Penguins or the Leafs? They are both talented teams with some of the best players in the world. But, the Penguins are not as strong as they have been in recent years and the Bruins have historically matched up well against Crosby and the Penguins in the playoffs. This would also mean that the three of the NHL’s top five teams would be eliminated by the second round – and that is no fun at all.

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I understand the NHL’s thinking in the divisional playoff system, but it has quickly become controversial because of the exact situation that the Bruins are in this season. Instead of the Bruins being rewarded for their strong play in the regular season, they are given arguably one of the toughest playoff matchups in the opening round of the postseason. Not to mention, this is the second year in a row that the Bruins and Leafs are set to play in the first round which can realistically happen for a few more years which would make it incredibly boring and repetitive if you ask me.

The NHL has responded to the criticism and call for change from many members of the media as well as hockey fans across North America. The general managers, commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly all agree that the playoff format is working for the league and generating more rivalries as well as higher ratings and have no intention of changing the playoff format in the near future.

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There is no guarantee in any playoff format that the Bruins will win it all, but it certainly is not right for the Bruins, and other teams, to have such tough playoff matchups after fighting for higher seeding during the regular season. We will just have to settle with this playoff format for the foreseeable future.

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