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How does the new NHL Playoff format work?

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The 2014 NHL Playoffs start on Wednesday, with three series kicking off the two-month journey that will reduce 16 contenders into two finalists and one Stanley Cup champion.

This year, for the first time in decades, there is a new spin to the playoff format, as teams are no longer assigned “No. 1”, “No. 2,” etc., rankings all the way down to “No. 8.” This year, the playoffs will follow bracket format, similar to what is seen in the NBA and college basketball.

How does it all work? We’ll explain below so you’ll know exactly who your favorite team will be up against should they make it into the next round.

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First round: In the first round, the teams are separated by divisions, i.e. the top three teams in the Atlantic Division (Bruins, Lightning, and Canadiens) are seeded by their finish in the division during the regular season: Bruins No. 1, Lightning No. 2, and Canadiens No. 3. In the new format, the second and third place finishers in each division are guaranteed to play each other in the first round.

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The fourth entrant into each of the divisional brackets is the "wild card," no pun intended. The Wild Card spots are won by the two teams finishing with the highest point totals that don't finish in the top-3 in their division.

For example, because the Bruins secured the best record in the Eastern Conference, it was determined that the Wild Card team with the lower points total would join the Atlantic Divisional playoff bracket (the Red Wings), with the Wild Card team with the higher points total joining the Metropolitan Divisional playoff bracket (the Blue Jackets).

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The important thing to remember, however, is that a Wild Card team is not necessarily seeded into the divisional bracket that they call home during the regular season. This year’s example of that is in the Western Conference, where the Dallas Stars were seeded into the Pacific Divisional bracket, despite competing in the Central Division during the regular season.

Second round: In previous years, the opponents who played in the second round of the playoff were determined by their overall seed in the conference, with the highest remaining seed playing the lowest remaining seed (i.e. if the remaining seeds after Round 1 were No. 2, No. 4, No. 6, and No. 8, then the No. 2 and No. 8 seeds would play and the No. 4 and No. 6 seeds would play.)

All the guess work of figuring out seedings and possible opponents has been taken out, as now there are only two possible opponents for a team to play should they advance to the second round. For instance, the Bruins are playing the Red Wings in the first round this year. Before that series even begins, it is guaranteed that no matter who wins, they will play the victor of the Lightning-Canadiens first round series in the second round.

After that, the NHL Playoffs are the same as they have always been. Now let’s get it underway already!