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When do the 2021 NHL Playoffs start?

The 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs were scheduled to start on May 11, but COVID-19 has pushed back the start date. We break down when the 2021 NHL Playoffs will get underway.

A general view of the in ice logos prior to the exhibition game between the Colorado Avalanche and the Minnesota Wild before the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena on July 29, 2020 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images

The NHL is wrapping up its 2021 regular season, but the COVID-19 pandemic will result in an adjusted start date for this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The season was originally scheduled to end on May 8 and the playoffs would begin on May 11. However, the regular season was extended to May 19 due to various postponements. The league issued a statement on May 4 announcing that some divisions could start their playoffs sooner than others.

“The NHL will continue to assess the progression of the regular season before announcing definitive dates for the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs,” the League said in a statement. “With the newly revised end date for the regular season for the North Division, it is possible that the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the East, Central and West Divisions could open a few days earlier than the North Division.”

Updated schedule of NHL playoff first round dates

Central Division

No. 1 Carolina Hurricanes vs. No. 4 Nashville Predators

Monday, May 17, 8 p.m.: Predators @ Hurricanes | CNBC, SNE, TVAS
Wednesday, May 19, 8 p.m.: Predators @ Hurricanes | CNBC, FX-CA, TVAS
Friday, May 21, 7 p.m.: Hurricanes @ Predators | USA, FXX-CA, TVAS
Sunday, May 23, TBD: Hurricanes @ Predators | TBD
*Tuesday, May 25, TBD: Predators @ Hurricanes | TBD
*Thursday, May 27, TBD: Hurricanes @ Predators | TBD
*Saturday, May 29, TBD: Predators @ Hurricanes | TBD

No. 2 Florida Panthers vs. No. 3 Tampa Bay Lightning

Sunday, May 16, 7:30 p.m.: Lightning @ Panthers | NBCSN, SN, TVAS
Tuesday, May 18, 8 p.m.: Lightning @ Panthers | CNBC, SNE, TVAS
Thursday, May 20, 6:30 p.m.: Panthers @ Lightning | USA, FX-CA, TVAS
Saturday, May 22, 12:30 p.m.: Panthers @ Lightning | CNBC, SN, TVAS
*Monday, May 24, TBD: Lightning @ Panthers | TBD
*Wednesday, May 26, TBD: Panthers @ Lightning | TBD
*Friday, May 28, TBD: Lightning @ Panthers | TBD

East Division

No. 1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 4 New York Islanders

Sunday, May 16, 12 p.m.: Islanders @ Penguins | NBC, SN, TVAS
Tuesday, May 18, 7:30 p.m.: Islanders @ Penguins | NBCSN, SN, CBC, TVAS
Thursday, May 20, 7 p.m.: Penguins @ Islanders | NBCSN, SN360, TVAS
Saturday, May 22, 3 p.m.: Penguins @ Islanders | NBC, SN, TVAS
*Monday, May 24, TBD: Islanders @ Penguins | TBD
*Wednesday, May 26, TBD: Penguins @ Islanders | TBD
*Friday, May 28, TBD: Islanders @ Penguins | TBD

No. 2 Washington Capitals vs. No. 3 Boston Bruins

Saturday, May 15, 7:15 p.m.: Bruins @ Capitals | NBC, SN, CBC, TVAS
Monday, May 17, 7:30 p.m.: Bruins @ Capitals | NBCSN, SN, CBC, TVAS
Wednesday, May 19, 6:30 p.m.: Capitals @ Bruins | NBCSN, SNE, SNO, SNP, SN360, TVAS
Friday, May 21, 6:30 p.m.: Capitals @ Bruins | NBCSN, SNE, SNO, SNP, SN360, TVAS
*Sunday, May 23, TBD: Bruins @ Capitals | TBD
*Tuesday, May 25, TBD: Capitals @ Bruins | TBD
*Thursday, May 27, TBD: Bruins @ Capitals | TBD

North Division

No. 1 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. No. 4 Montreal Canadiens

Thursday, May 20, 7:30 p.m.: Canadiens @ Maple Leafs | NHLN, SN, CBC, TVAS
Saturday, May 22, 7 p.m.: Canadiens @ Maple Leafs | CNBC, SN, CBC, TVAS
Monday, May 24, TBD: Maple Leafs @ Canadiens | TBD
Tuesday, May 25, TBD: Maple Leafs @ Canadiens | TBD
*Thursday, May 27, TBD: Canadiens @ Maple Leafs | TBD
*Saturday, May 29, TBD: Maple Leafs @ Canadiens | TBD
*Monday, May 31, TBD: Canadiens @ Maple Leafs | TBD

No. 2 Edmonton Oilers vs. No. 3 Winnipeg Jets

Wednesday, May 19, 9 p.m.: Jets @ Oilers | NBCSN, SN, CBC, TVAS
Friday, May 21, 9 p.m.: Jets @ Oilers | NBCSN, SN, CBC, TVAS
Sunday, May 23, TBD: Oilers @ Jets | TBD
Monday, May 24, TBD: Oilers @ Jets | TBD
*Wednesday, May 26, TBD: Jets @ Oilers | TBD
*Friday, May 28, TBD: Oilers @ Jets | TBD
*Sunday, May 30, TBD: Jets @ Oilers | TBD

West Division

No. 1 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 4 St. Louis Blues

Monday, May 17, 10 p.m.: Blues @ Avalanche | NBCSN, SN1, TVAS
Wednesday, May 19, 10:30 p.m.: Blues @ Avalanche | CNBC, SN360, TVAS
Friday, May 21, 9:30 p.m.: Avalanche@ Blues | USA, SN360, TVAS
Sunday, May 23, TBD: Avalanche @ Blues | TBD
*Tuesday, May 25, TBD: Blues @ Avalanche | TBD
*Thursday, May 27, TBD: Avalanche @ Blues | TBD
*Saturday, May 29, TBD: Blues @ Avalanche | TBD

No. 2 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 3 Minnesota Wild

Sunday, May 16, 3 p.m.: Wild @ Golden Knights | NBC, SN, TVAS
Tuesday, May 18, 10 p.m.: Wild @ Golden Knights | NBCSN, SN360, TVAS
Thursday, May 20, 9:30 p.m.: Golden Knights @ Wild | NBCSN, SN360, TVAS
Saturday, May 22, 8 p.m.: Golden Knights @ Wild | NBC, SN360, TVAS
*Monday, May 24, TBD: Wild @ Golden Knights | TBD
*Wednesday, May 26, TBD: Golden Knights @ Wild | TBD
*Friday, May 28, TBD: Wild @ Golden Knights | TBD

When will the 2021 NHL playoffs start?

UPDATE: Capitals-Bruins will get underway on Saturday, May 15.

The NHL appears to plan on starting the playoffs based on when each division finishes its regular season play. The previous plan was for the first playoff games to start 3 days after the close of the regular season. If that holds, that means we could have playoff games potentially as soon as May 13 even as other teams are finishing regular season play. They are doing this do to a new playoff structure that opens with entirely divisional play in the first two rounds.

How are the playoffs structured?

Due to Canadian COVID-19 travel restrictions, the NHL realigned into four divisions with one division exclusively Canadian teams. The first two rounds of the playoffs will be played exclusively within a team’s division. In the first round, the first place team will face the fourth place team and the second place team will face the third place team. The second round will feature the winner of each divisional series facing off.

Four teams will advance out of the second round into the Stanley Cup Semifinals. They will be re-seeded based on regular season point total and placed into a new 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 bracket. There will be no pre-set Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference format in the Stanley Cup Finals.

When does each division finish its regular season schedule?

The regular season schedule was originally set to wrap on May 8. It now finishes on May 19, although different divisions close on different days. Here’s the final regular season game date for each division.

Central: May 10 — All but Columbus and Detroit, who finish on May 8
East: May 11 — Boston @ Washington
North: May 19 — Vancouver @ Calgary
West: May 13 — Minnesota @ St. Louis, Los Angeles @ Colorado

Why is the North finishing so late?

The NHL had to reschedule 53 games due to COVID-19, but the most significant impact was with the Vancouver Canucks. The team had an outbreak that saw 22 players and four staff members test positive for a variant of the coronavirus in late March and early April. The team postponed five consecutive games, including two against Calgary, two against Winnipeg, and one against Edmonton. Those were moved to the back end of the schedule, and starting May 15, the Canucks will be the only team (and their various opponents) playing through May 19.

Will Vancouver have to play all of its remaining games for the North to get started?

The Canucks are currently in last place in the North division. The Ottawa Senators are six points ahead of them and have already been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. Vancouver has played six fewer games than Ottawa, which is why they remain mathematically alive.

So, back to the first question, when will the playoffs start?

The Central seems likely to be the first division to start playoff play, potentially as early as May 13. The East could follow on May 14, and the West on May 16. Given the difference in time and that the North might not start until May 20 or 21, it would make sense for the Central to start a few days after the May 13 to tighten up the schedule. We’ll update as the situation develops.

News updates

May 10, 9:50 pm: The Capitals and Bruins will face off in the first round and Game 1 is scheduled for Saturday, May 15 at 7:15 p.m. ET.

May 10: The league has not announced a start date, but it seems a good bet most series will get started sometime between May 19 and 21. If the Central and East divisions started a week earlier than the North, it would create competitive issues when we got to the Stanley Cup Semifinals with the North team coming into it off less opening rest than the other teams.

May 7: The Penguins announced on Friday that playoff tickets will go on sale on Wednesday, May 12. Dates, times, and opponent are still to be determined.