NHL commissioner on Blackhawks' early exit: 'That's our playoffs' – Chicago Tribune

It takes an 82-game regular season to determine who the top-seeded teams will be in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Then … poof. The first round isn’t even over and two of the top-seeded teams are out.

That’s hockey, baby.

Or at least that’s how NHL commissioner Gary Bettman explained the league’s playoff format in a meeting Friday with a group of sports editors.

“For all the prognostication and everything you can see on paper, I think everybody was surprised,” Bettman said, referring to the biggest upset, in which the Western Conference‘s top-seeded Blackhawks were swept by the eighth-seeded Predators. “But that’s our playoffs, right?”

“We have extraordinary competitive balance. You see it throughout the regular season. Every game seems to matter when you get to the point where you need to qualify for the playoffs,” Bettman said.

“Virtually every team gives its fans hope at the start of the regular season. And I think what you’ve seen over the last decade or so is once the playoffs start, anything can happen.”

This season, the top three teams in the Eastern Conference were clustered in a single division, the Metropolitan. The divisional format — as opposed to the previous 1-through-8 conference format — assures that at least one of those teams will be eliminated in the first round. Columbus (108 points) was knocked out by Pittsburgh (111 points) Thursday night. Top-seeded Washington (118 points) is tied 2-2 with Toronto, the eighth-seeded wild card, heading into Friday night’s game.

But Bettman is happy with the format and thinks the upside outweighs the downside.

“Just because the points seem to be clustered (this year) that can change from year to year. The purpose of the format is to accentuate rivalries, and you get your best rivalries in divisional play,” Bettman said. “It’s

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