Best-of playoffs are a playoffs format that have two teams facing each other in a series where, in order to advance to the next round or be declared champion, a team has to win a given number of matches. The best-of format is a common occurence in ice hockey, especially at the league level, where the winners of the league's playoffs are decided by a more or less long best-of series. Best-of series require an odd number of maximum matches and, in leagues where ties exist, they also require that tied games be played until a winner is found; these requirements ensure that one team invariably wins at least one more game than its opponent, and therefore can win the series.

Often, a team will be able to win the required number of games before the maximum number of matches is reached. In those cases, the remaining matches are omitted, as they would be meaningless.

Throughout history, three variations are commonly found: the best-of-three, the best-of-five and the best-of-seven.


The best-of-three playoffs require a team to win two games to clinch the series. These have been in use in the National Hockey League almost since its beginning. It was actually one of the two ways to win the Stanley Cup, the other being a two-legged playoffs series. Initially, the best-of-three was used in the lower stage of the Stanley Cup tournament, with the finals being a two-legged series; this held true until the Original Six era.


Best-of-five playoffs require a team to win three games against their opponent to clinch the series. The National Hockey League adopted these when they absorbed four teams from the World Hockey Association in 1979. They kept this format until 1986.


Best-of-seven playoffs require a team to win four games in its series in order to clinch it. It is the current NHL playoffs format.


An rather rare occurence in hockey, the best-of-nine, that requires a team to win five games, has been used for seven seasons from 1983-84 through 1990-91 in the Western Hockey League. This format was adopted for the Western Division only, as the Eastern and Western Divisions were not balanced. The Western Division had 6 teams; the other one had 8. It resulted in the Western Division having only two playoffs rounds to play to reach the playoffs (albeit longer ones), while the Eastern Division had three rounds and byes awarded to two teams in the first round. In the East, they played one best-of-five, then two best-of-seven series before reaching the WHL Championship Series, a best-of-seven. Only twice did a best-of-nine series extend to the full nine games lenght: the first time in 1984 when the Portland Winterhawks defeated the New Westminster Bruins, and in 1986 when the same Winterhawks defeated the Spokane Chiefs.

This format was often used to maximize playoff gate receipts. Many of the amateur leagues only made money during the playoffs. An example was the Lower St Lawrence League of 1953-54.

The format was often used by the Ontario Hockey Association up until the 1990s instead of the use of byes.

The Unique 1952-53 SeasonEdit

This season was unique because the Quebec Amateur Hockey Association was suspended by the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association at the end of February, just as the last of the regular seasons was ending.

This meant that the Quebec teams could not compete in the Alexander Cup, Allan Cup or Memorial Cup playoffs.

The Quebec leagues had to scramble to fill up some lost time. The Quebec Senior Hockey League (Major) decided to make one of its semi-final a best-of-eleven series! And it actually went the full 11 games, with Chicoutimi beating Ottawa 6 wins to 5.

The Lac St Jean Senior League also adopted the best-of-eleven format for its final series, which only(!) went 9 games.

Some of the other series in these leagues and the Provincial Senior League used the shorter best of 9 format.

The problem was not restricted to Quebec. The Ontario Hockey Association's Junior A league had lost its main interprovincial opponent and changed two of its series to best of 9 to make up for the lost playoff series. Ironically, a Quebec team was found for the 1952-53 Eastern Canada Memorial Cup Playoffs.

Cerainly a playoff season to remember!