The Stanley Cup hockey playoffs represent an elimination competition in the National Hockey League (NHL) and are made of four rounds of best-of-seven series.
Starting with 2014 the Division Semifinals or the first round of the hockey playoffs includes two match-ups for each division, according to the seedings: No. 1 vs. No. 4, No. 2 vs. No. 3. The team that is ranked as being the top team in the conference plays the wild-card team that is ranked as being lower. The winner of the other division plays the wild-card team that is ranked as being the higher, while the next two seeds for each division play against each other. In the Division Finals, or the second round of the playoffs, the top left division seed plays the lowest division seed. In the Conference Finals or third round, the two division champions play against each other, and the conference champions continue to the Stanley Cup Final.
The higher-seeded team has home-ice advantage for the first three rounds, no matter the point record. In the Stanley Cup Final the home-ice advantage goes to the team that has the better regular season record, without taking into consideration the seeding. The team that has the home-ice advantage is the host for Games 1, 2, 5 and 7, while the adversary team is the host for Games 3, 4 and 6; the Games 5–7 are played if it is necessary.
The format of the hockey playoffs was entirely different from the 1981 – 1982 season to the 1992 – 1993 season. Each of the conferences of the league was separated into two divisions, and the top four teams for each division advanced to the playoffs. Furthermore, the first-place team played against the fourth-place team for each division, and the second-place team played against the third-place team (meaning the Division Semifinals), instead of the top-ranked team playing against the eighth-place team in the conference in the first round. In the second round, the two winning teams for each first-round series would play against each other for the divisional championship (meaning the Division Finals).
Then, the divisional champions for each conference would play against each other in the third round (meaning in the Conference Finals) in order to attain the right to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. With the help of this structure, there were determined the teams in the playoffs in the American Hockey League until the 2011 – 2012 season, when this structure was changed into the present National Hockey League structure.