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2020-21 Playoff format could produce some unusual Stanley Cup Final matchups

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The 2020-21 NHL season could produce the kind of Stanley Cup Final matchup that would never be possible under the normal conference alignments.

With the league officially playing a shortened 56-game schedule with temporarily realigned divisions for this season, the playoff format is also getting a one-year overhaul.

Here is how it is going to work:

The top-four teams in each division will qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There are no wild card teams. The first two rounds will be played within the division in a 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 format. You might recall this format from the old Patrick, Norris, Smythe, and Adams division days. Well, for this year. It is back.

[2021 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round schedule]

Those matchups will make up the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Here is a refresher on what the divisions will look like this season.


[Related: NHL officially rolls out plans for 2020-21 56-game season]

This is where things get interesting and a little different.

The four teams that advance to the Stanley Cup Semifinals will then be re-seeded based on their regular season point totals, and then placed into a new 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 bracket. That means the traditional Eastern Conference champion vs. Western Conference champion format is out the window for this year, and all sorts of new options are suddenly on the table.

Toronto vs. Boston? It could happen. Nathan MacKinnon and Colorado vs. Connor McDavid and Edmonton? It is a possibility. Tampa Bay and Toronto? Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay? Washington and Tampa Bay? St. Louis and Dallas? Minnesota and Dallas? St. Louis and Chicago? All possible! In theory, anyway.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.