The 2014 NHL playoffs officially got underway on Wednesday night, but the format and seeding might look strikingly different. Both were simplified this season by the NHL but with a few quirks thrown in to make it difficult to understand.
After decades of the same format, the NHL went to one that resembles the NCAA tournament. In fact, the NHL has set up a bracket on its website for fans to fill out, which has been shared by fans all over the country, as the league's official Twitter account shares:
Do you like the new playoff format?
There are no longer seeds of Nos. 1 through 8, but rather a No. 1 seed in each bracket all the way down to a No. 4 seed. Of those seeds, the No. 4 team in each bracket is the Wild Card from either division that earned the spot.
The Wild Card spots were won by the two franchises with the highest point totals that didn't claim one of the top three spots in their division. The team that came in with the most points as the Wild Card team plays the second-highest ranked team, while the other faces the highest seed.
With the drastic new look for the bracket, the format has come under fire for the matchups that came from the extreme change. Seth Rorabaugh of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes that the changes leave no suspense for teams in the middle of the pack:
The new NHL playoff format is terrible. All the 2nd/3rd place teams know they'll play each other a month in advance. No mystery.— Seth Rorabaugh (@emptynetters) March 29, 2014
As for Rorabaugh's beat, the Pittsburgh Penguins came in as the No. 1 seed in the Metropolitan Division and drew the Columbus Blue Jackets, the No. 4 seed in their division. The new format has also pitted some of the most historic franchises against one another, such as the No. 1 Boston Bruins and No. 4 Detroit Red Wings.
That matchup also has two brothers playing against each other as Brendan and Reilly Smith will match up for the first time in the postseason. Brendan Smith spoke about playing his brother in the first round, according to Stephen Whyno of the Leader-Post:
We were always playing mini sticks or road hockey or shinny on the ice out on the rink, stuff like that. We were always playing with or against each other.
... He told me he doesn't want to see that. He doesn't want to see that in the first round because he thinks we play really well against them. I think we match up decently well against Boston. I think we match up better against them than Pittsburgh.
Needless to say, the system somewhat worked out, but the new changes didn't work out quite as well for the teams outside of the No. 1 seeds.
For teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Montreal Canadiens, who now have to face one another, both franchises would have faced a lesser opponent with the old format.
In the old system, both teams would have squared off with a team with less points from the other division, as Julie Robenhymer of HockeyBuzz.com explains:
With the old #NHL playoff format, we would be seeing PHL-TBL, MTL-NYR, STL-LAK & SJS-CHI instead of TBL-MTL, NYR-PHL, STL-CHI & SJS-LAK— Julie Robenhymer (@JulieRobenhymer) April 14, 2014
While most of the teams facing off are from the same division, the Dallas Stars clinched the final Wild Card spot and were placed in the Pacific bracket against the Anaheim Ducks.
The format also pits teams like the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks against the St. Louis Blues, which actually have the same point total as the Colorado Avalanche and San Jose Sharks. Either one could be a tough test for the Avalanche in the second round as both teams have multiple lethal scoring threats.
Thanks to winning the President's Trophy during the regular season, the Bruins hold the top overall seed and will have home-ice advantage all the way. A few favorable matchups also make it look like the Bruins are primed for a late run in the playoffs.
With the first round having kicked off on Wednesday night, the new playoff format is here to stay. Some fans may love it for its simplicity while others are indifferent due to the matchup for their team, but the NHL got exactly what it wanted with exciting matchups throughout the playoffs.
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