For the past 20 years, the Stanley Cup playoffs featured a seeded tournament with each conference’s teams ranked Nos. 1 through 8.
But that was then.
Now, the first round pits the No. 1 seed in each division against a wild card team, while the division’s second-highest ranked seed plays its third-highest ranked seed.
That’s why the Rangers, the Metropolitan Division’s No. 2, will face off in the first round against the No. 3 Flyers with home-ice advantage starting this week. Under the old playoff format, the Rangers would have been a No. 5 seed and opened the postseason at Tampa Bay.
Divisional play continues into the second round. For example, the Blueshirts would advance to face the winner of the Metropolitan Division champion Penguins and wild card Blue Jackets.
For the record, the fact that the Blue Jackets happen to be a Metropolitan Division team isn’t why they’re in that division’s playoff bracket — that’s mere coincidence. Columbus is facing Pittsburgh because it was a higher seeded wild card than the Red Wings, who face the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Bruins.
Beginning in the third round, the Stanley Cup playoffs will once again look familiar. The winner of each conference semifinal will meet to determine which two teams square off in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Longtime hockey fans will recall how similar this system is to the divisional playoff format the NHL used from 1981-82 to 1992-93.