Bruins fan guide for NHL playoffs 2021: Game schedule, bracket

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Bruins fan guide for NHL playoffs 2021: Game schedule, bracket originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

For the second straight season, the Stanley Cup playoffs will look unlike any other.

The postseason format has undergone a one-year overhaul.  And the Stanley Cup Finals could feature an inter-conference matchup never before possible, and perhaps never to be so again. 

Here's everything you need to know as the Stanley Cup playoffs kick off this weekend.

How many teams make the 2021 NHL playoffs?

With the NHL having temporarily realigned its divisions this season to ease travel during the pandemic, the playoffs will have a different format. The 56-game regular season featured four divisions: the East, Central and West divisions, which had eight teams each, and the North division, which included the league's seven Canadian teams. The top four teams from each division qualified for the postseason, making a 16-team field.

Stanley Cup bracket
Stanley Cup bracket

What is the NHL playoff format for 2021?

There will be no wild card games, no traditional bracket, no Eastern Conference champion, no Western Conference champion.

The first two rounds of the NHL playoffs will be inter-division matchups, with the top seed of each taking on the No. 4 seed, and the No. 2 seed facing the No. 3 seed. The winners of each divisional series then face one another, with the winning team advancing to the semifinals. The four divisional winners advance to the semifinals, where the teams will be reseeded based on regular season points totals, with the No. 1 seed facing No. 4, and No. 2 taking on No. 3. The winners move on to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The first two rounds will take place at home arenas, with fans in attendance if local ordinances allow. For the semifinal series including a Canadian team -- and, if necessary, the Finals -- the NHL has applied for an exemption with the Canadian government to allow a U.S. team and a Canadian team to travel between their home arenas without quarantining. The league is hoping to have a resolution by the time the first round ends.

How can I watch the 2021 NHL playoffs?

The 2021 NHL Playoffs will air on NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, USA, NHL Network and stream on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

When do the Stanley Cup playoffs start?

The first matchup of the playoffs takes place Saturday, May 15, at 7:15 p.m. ET when the No. 2 Washington Capitals take on the No. 3 Boston Bruins on NBC. You can stream the game live here.

The other East, Central and West first-round series begin on Sunday and Monday, while the first playoff game for the North Division is on Wednesday, May 19.

Which teams are in the Stanley Cup playoffs?

Series winner odds provided by our partner, PointsBet.

CENTRAL

No. 1 Carolina Hurricanes (-250) vs. No. 4 Nashville Predators (+200)

No. 2 Florida Panthers (+120) vs. No. 3 Tampa Bay Lightning (-145)

EAST

No. 1 Pittsburgh Penguins (-150) vs. No. 4 New York Islanders (+125)

No. 2  Washington Capitals (+120) vs. No. 3  Boston Bruins (-145)

NORTH

No. 1 Toronto Maples Leafs (-300) vs. No. 4 Montreal Canadiens (+225)

No. 2 Edmonton Oilers (-175) vs. No. 3 Winnipeg Jets (+150)

WEST

No. 1 Colorado Avalanche (-350) vs. No. 4 St. Louis Blues (+270)

No. 2 Vegas Golden Knights (-250) vs. No. 3 Minnesota Wild (+200)

Editor's note: All odds are provided by our partner, PointsBet. PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links.