Stanley Cup Playoffs 2017: NHL Bracket, Format and Updated Predictions

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistApril 4, 2017

Head coach Claude Julien and the Montreal Canadiens have clinched the Atlantic Division title.
Head coach Claude Julien and the Montreal Canadiens have clinched the Atlantic Division title.Joel Auerbach/Associated Press

The Montreal Canadiens are the Atlantic Division champions. 

One year after building a big lead in the division and frittering it away until they missed the playoffs, the Habs reversed that script by putting a halt to a midseason slide and finding their groove.

Their turnaround coincided with general manager Marc Bergevin's decision to fire head coach Michel Therrien and hire Claude Julien. After that move, the Canadiens turned their season around and distanced themselves from the rest of the division.

The Habs clinched the division Monday night with a 4-1 road victory over the Florida Panthers. It was their fifth straight victory.

"It's a good feeling knowing that we're rolling right now," left wing Max Pacioretty said after the game, per Alain Poupart of NHL.com. "We want to keep going and want guys to feel good about their game, and obviously the offense is coming at the right time and hopefully we can maintain that."

NHL Public Relations @PR_NHL

Both the @MapleLeafs and @NHLBruins have an opportunity to punch their ticket to the #StanleyCup Playoffs on Tuesday. https://t.co/GTSPNWkt2R

The Toronto Maple Leafs were back in action Monday night, and they jumped all over the Buffalo Sabres with three quick goals en route to a 4-2 victory. The Maple Leafs (93 points) moved into second place with the win, vaulting over the idle Boston Bruins by one point.

The Ottawa Senators picked up a point in their 5-4 shootout loss to the Detroit Red Wings, and that allowed them to move into third place in the Atlantic Division. Both the Senators and Bruins have 92 points, but the Sens have the current edge in the standings because they have four games remaining while the Bruins have three.

However, the Senators cannot feel good about the way they are playing. They were challenging the Canadiens for the division title last month, but they have slumped at the wrong time of year. The loss to the Red Wings finished off an 0-3-2 road trip, and they are contending with a series of injuries.

The Senators will host the Red Wings in a return game Tuesday night.

The Bruins are streaking in the other direction. They bring a five-game winning streak into their game Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and a victory at home in regulation time will allow the Bruins to clinch a playoff spot.

Boston failed to make the playoffs in either of the last two years as a result of late-season collapses, but the team is clearly playing much better hockey this time around.

The Lightning remain in playoff contention, but they will be dealt a huge blow if they can't beat the Bruins.

Maple Leafs Report @mapleleaf_fanly

Game Preview: Washington Capitals at Toronto Maple Leafs #TMLTalk https://t.co/GPUpks9S5h https://t.co/sxgmCAI0r9

The Maple Leafs are also back in action Tuesday night as they host the Washington Capitals. The Leafs have recorded an 8-1-1 mark in their last 10 games, but they will close out the season with challenging games against the Capitals, Lightning, Pittsburgh Penguins and the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The New York Islanders are still alive as they prepare to face the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena, but they need to win out and get help. Their task became even more difficult when star center John Tavares suffered a season-ending hamstring injury.

The Capitals, Penguins, Blue Jackets and New York Rangers have clinched Eastern Conference playoff spots. The Rangers appear to be the No. 1 wild-card team, and the Capitals have a five-point edge on the Penguins for first place in the Metropolitan Division.

They also have a five-point edge on the Chicago Blackhawks for the Presidents' Trophy, which goes to the team with the best regular-season record. Winning that honor assures home-ice advantage throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs.

There are no playoff spots up for grabs in the Western Conference because the Los Angeles Kings were eliminated from playoff consideration when they lost Sunday night.

Joel Quenneville has the Blackhawks atop the Western Conference.
Joel Quenneville has the Blackhawks atop the Western Conference.Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

The Blackhawks have clinched the best record in the Western Conference, and they will have home-ice advantage in every round until they get to the Stanley Cup Final. If they get there and don't face Washington, Joel Quenneville's team could have home ice in that round as well.

The Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues are in second- and third-place respectively in the Central Division, while the Nashville Predators are holding down the No. 2 Wild-Card spot.

The Anaheim Ducks are in first place in the Pacific Division, and they are trying to hold off the Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks for the Division title. The Calgary Flames are currently in the No. 1 wild-card spot.

Key Western Conference games Tuesday night include the Ducks hosting the Flames, the Oilers going on the road to face the Kings and the Sharks hosting the Vancouver Canucks.

Bracket format and predicted postseason matchups

The Stanley Cup playoffs start next week, and these matchups seem likely.

In the Eastern Conference, look for Washington to win the Metropolitan Division and meet the Senators (No. 2 wild card) in the first round, with the Canadiens (first in the Atlantic Division) meet the Rangers (No. 1 wild card).

The Toronto Maple Leafs (No. 2 in the Atlantic) should host the Bruins (No. 3 in Atlantic), while the Penguins (No. 2 in the Metropolitan) will have home ice in their playoff matchup with the Blue Jackets (No. 3 in Metropolitan).

In the Western Conference, the Blackhawks (No. 1 in Central) will meet the Predators (No. 2 wild card), while the Ducks (No. 1 in Pacific) will face off against the Flames (No. 1 wild card).

The Wild (No. 2 in Central) will have the home-ice edge over the Blues (No. 3 in Central), while we expect the Oilers (No. 2 in Pacific) to meet the Sharks (No. 3 in Pacific).


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