Here are the best ways to watch:
Much to my dismay as a Capitals fan, the fight for the Stanley Cup is on. The first round of the 2023 NHL playoffs kicked off last week after a record-breaking season.
The Boston Bruins wowed everyone with a historic 135-point season (and obviously the Presidents’ Trophy), breaking the record for most points and most wins(opens in a new tab) in a single season. But that doesn’t mean they’re a shoo-in for the Stanley Cup. Hockey fans know that anything can happen in the NHL playoffs. Will the underdog Florida Panthers knock them out in the first round? Will the Las Vegas Golden Knights or Seattle Kraken secure their first-ever Cup? Everything is up for grabs.
If you want to witness the excitement (and frustration) of playoff hockey live, here’s everything you need to know.
When are the playoffs?The first round kicked off on April 17 with a matchup between the Carolina Hurricanes and the New York Islanders. Teams generally play every other day, with games scheduled through May 1 if necessary. The dates for the second round, third round (conference finals), and Stanley Cup final will depend on how the first series pan out. The final will take place roughly between June 8 and June 18. You can check out the full schedule(opens in a new tab) on the official NHL website.
How many teams are in Stanley Cup playoffs?A total of 16 out of 32 NHL teams make it to the playoffs. That’s eight teams per conference — the three top teams in each of the four divisions, plus two Wild Card teams in each conference.
How does the first round of the NHL playoffs work?To kick things off, the first round of the playoffs features eight different seven-game series. The division winner with the most points in each conference plays the second Wild Card team in the first round. In other words, the team with the most points will face off against the team with the fewest points. The division winner with fewer points in each conference will play the top Wild Card team in the first round. Each series is a best-of-seven format, where the winner moves on to the second round, bracket-style.
Are the Stanley Cup playoffs on regular TV?If you have cable or access to a cable login, you’re in luck. Live games will air on TNT, TBS, ESPN, ESPN2, and ABC throughout the postseason. Each series is not strictly designated to one broadcaster — for example, games in a series could air on TBS, ABC, and ESPN within the same week. Check out the official playoffs schedule on (opens in a new tab)NHL.com(opens in a new tab) to find out which channel to tune into for specific games.
How can I watch the Stanley Cup playoffs without cable?Fear not, cord cutters. You can certainly watch the playoffs without cable, but since the games are airing across multiple networks, it’s not as cut and dry as you might think. You could sign up for ESPN+ (on its own, as an add-on to Hulu, or through the Disney bundles), but you’ll only be able to watch the games that air on ESPN and ABC. Of course, you’ll still get access to plenty of live games; you just might miss out on an essential game seven broadcasted only on TBS, for example.
ESPN+ via Hulu add-on(opens in a new tab) — $6.99/month $9.99/month (save $3/month)
ESPN+(opens in a new tab) — $9.99/month
Disney Bundle Trio Basic (Hulu with ads, Disney+ with ads, and ESPN+ with ads)(opens in a new tab)— $12.99/month $25.97/month (save $12.98/month)
Disney Bundle Trio Basic(opens in a new tab) — free with Verizon 5G Get More or (opens in a new tab)5G Play More(opens in a new tab) plans
Disney Bundle Trio Premium (Disney+ no ads, Hulu no ads, and ESPN+ with ads)(opens in a new tab) — $19.99/month $35.97/month (save $15.98/month)
For die-hard hockey fans who can’t fathom missing a live game, your best bet is to subscribe to a live TV streaming service. Different from cable, live TV streamers rely on internet and offer you a live channel lineup without a monthly contract. You can cancel any time it no longer suits you — no strings attached. These services start at about $40 per month, which is by no means cheap, but still generally more affordable than a monthly cable bill. Plus, you get your money’s worth with access to live and local channels spanning news, sports, and entertainment. It’ll serve you long after a team is awarded the coveted Stanley Cup, should you choose to keep your subscription.
To watch games that air on TNT and TBS live, non-cable-subscribers will need a live TV streaming service like Hulu + Live TV or Sling TV. Neither of these channels has its own separate streaming service, so the only way to access their live content currently is through a cable login or a live TV streaming login. Fortunately, some of our top picks have free trials or introductory offers. Here are the best options.
Note: The only streamers that offer all five networks broadcasting the playoffs (ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, and ABC) are Hulu + Live TV and YouTube TV in select regions.
Hulu + Live TV(opens in a new tab) — $69.99/month
YouTube TV(opens in a new tab) — 5-day free trial, then $62.99/month $72.99/month for three months (save $30)
DirecTV Stream Entertainment Package(opens in a new tab) — $64.99/month for two years
Sling TV Orange(opens in a new tab) — $20/month $40/month for your first month (save $20), then $40/month
fuboTV Pro(opens in a new tab) — 7-day free trial, then $74.99/month
How can I watch NHL playoffs for free?Two words: free trials. For most people, this is the best way to get access to NHL playoff games for free — although, you’ll have to be extremely strategic. Once you’ve used up your free trials, there are also a few ways you can score a streaming subscription for a discount. If you’re even a little bit computer savvy, you can also sign up for a VPN (more on that below) and watch select games via CBC Sports, based in Canada. Listen up, penny pinchers; here are your best options.
Are you a Verizon customer? If you have a 5G Get More or (opens in a new tab)5G Play More(opens in a new tab) plan, you can score the Disney Bundle Trio Basic — which includes ESPN+ — for free. You’ll have to put up with some ads, but for zero dollars, it’s hard to complain.
YouTube TV(opens in a new tab) currently offers a free 20-minute preview, then a free five-day trial. To unlock the trial, you’ll have to enter your credit card information. After your five days are up (you can keep an eye on how much time you have left(opens in a new tab)), you can either cancel or pay $62.99/month for your first three months — that’s $30 in savings. YouTube TV’s base plan includes access to ESPN, ESPN2, TBS, TNT, and ABC (in some regions).
Another option is to unlock a free seven-day trial through fuboTV Pro(opens in a new tab), then cancel before you get charged $74.99 for the month. The only downside is that fuboTV only gives you access to ESPN and ESPN2.
While there’s no free trial, Sling TV Orange(opens in a new tab) is offering your first month for half price at just $20/month. It’s the cheapest live TV option by far, even at full price, and includes access to ESPN, ESPN2, TBS, and TNT.
CBC Sports(opens in a new tab), based in Canada, is streaming select games for free online and via app. You’ll need to connect to a Canadian server through a VPN to get access to CBC Sports, which will cost you.
Which VPN is best for streaming the Stanley Cup playoffs?If you choose to tune into games for free online through CBC Sports(opens in a new tab), you’ll still have to pay for a VPN. However, most VPNs are much more affordable per month than a streaming service. You can also utilize your VPN subscription to access US-based streaming if you’re traveling abroad this playoffs season. Win-win. Here are the VPNs we recommend for streaming the NHL playoffs.
ExpressVPN: Save 49% on a 15-month plan(opens in a new tab)Our favorite full-featured VPN, ExpressVPN, is currently offering three months for free when you sign up for a year at just $6.67/month. It offers a massive network, including plenty of Canadian servers, a strong commitment to data protection, and a user-friendly app.
Read our full review of ExpressVPN.
CyberGhost VPN: Save 84% on a 27-month plan(opens in a new tab)New to VPNs? We recommend CyberGhost VPN, a user-friendly and feature-heavy option with plenty of optimized streaming servers. It offers cheap fixed rates, as Mashable shopping reporter Haley Henschel noted, and over 450 dedicated servers in Canada alone. It’s also the most affordable option on the list.
Read our full review of CyberGhost VPN.
Proton VPN: Save 50% on a 2-year Plus plan(opens in a new tab)As Mashable’s Haley Henschel notes, Proton VPN is highly committed to consumer privacy, making it a top pick for security sticklers. There are over 40 physical servers in Canada if you choose the Plus plan, which should make streaming the Stanley Cup playoffs via CBC Sports pretty straightforward.
Read our full review of ProtonVPN.
NordVPN Standard: Save 75% on a 27-month Standard plan(opens in a new tab)NordVPN offers an unrivaled suite of security features, a Threat Protection feature, and over 4800 servers in three different Canadian cities. It’s not the best choice if you’re new to VPNs, but it’s packed with features, is well-known, and currently on sale for just $3.29/month for 27 months.
Read our full review of NordVPN.
Christina Buff is a freelance deals writer for Shopping.
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