The 2008 NHL season began on October 4, and 30 teams are now vying for the ultimate piece of hardware. The regular season will conclude on April 12, giving way to a long and intense playoff struggle. Eight teams from each conference, Eastern and Western, qualify for post-season play.
In the Eastern Conference, champions of the Atlantic, Northeast, and Southeast divisions automatically reach the playoffs, and they will be joined by the teams with the next five best records. It’s the same in the Western Conference; the five best non-division winners will advance along with the champions of the Central, Northwest, and Pacific divisions.
Home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs goes to the three division winners in each conference, seeded 1 through 3 based on best record and the No. 4 seed, the team with the next best record. No. 1 plays No. 8, 2 plays 7, 3 plays 6, and 4 plays 5. In the second round, the highest advancing seeded faces the lowest remaining seed, with the two middle seeds squaring off.
In all rounds leading up to the Stanley Cup finals, livescore between the winner of the Eastern Conference and the winner of the Western Conference, the higher seed in a series always has home-ice advantage, which means that team hosts Game 1 and 2, and if necessary 5 and 7. The lower seeded teams host Game 3 and 4, and if necessary 6. Every series is best out of seven games; in other words, the first team to four wins takes the series. If a team wins the first four games of a series, of course, the last three are not played.
In the Stanley Cup finals, the team with the best record will have home-ice advantage. For example, even if the No. 1 seed advances out of the Western Conference and the No. 2 seed emerges from the Eastern Conference, the No. 2 seed from the East will have home-ice advantage if it had a better record than the West’s No. 1 in the regular season.
At the moment, there are two clear-cut favorites to reach the 2009 Stanley Cup finals, which will conclude in June. No team has been more dominant than the San Jose Sharks, who boast a 23-3-2 record (23 wins, three losses, two losses in overtime or shootout. Teams receive two points for a win, one for an overtime loss, and none for an outright loss).
The Sharks have a 13-point lead in the Pacific Division and a six-point lead over the second best team in the West, the Detroit Red Wings. In the Eastern Conference, the Boston Bruins lead the way with an impressive 20-5-4 record. The Bruins own a seven-point advantage in the Northeast Division and a four-point lead on the East’s second best team, the New York Rangers.