I’m gonna start this story with a simple plea.
Please don’t shoot the messenger. I don’t work for Turner, Disney, or the respective regional sports network that covers your local team. I have zero control over NHL or TV scheduling.
Ok, now that we’ve established that fact, let’s get into your main question, “How and where do I watch NHL playoff games this year in the United States?”
For a refresher, this is the first season of a new national deal in the United States with ESPN and Turner replacing NBC as the television home of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It turned into a good deal for the NHL; viewership numbers were up, and both Turner and ESPN were rather happy with the advertising interest driven by the sport. The NHL also experimented with a TV deal that was heavy on the streaming element, where exclusive games were streamed only on ESPN + and Hulu, which led to mixed reviews from viewers depending on their level of tech-savviness.
While we tried to tackle some questions before the season started, the questions persisted throughout the season via email and social media, so with the playoffs starting Monday night, it’s best to prepare you for playoff viewing. And like I said back in September, be sure to bookmark this story to tweet at others when they can’t find the game.
Which networks do I need?
If you want to watch every playoff game you’re going to need a television package that includes ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, and TBS.
On opening night of the playoffs, for example, there will be doubleheaders on ESPN and ESPN2 with staggered start times. There will also be playoff doubleheaders on TNT and TBS later in the postseason.
Through the first two rounds, games from a series could be on either an ESPN or Turner broadcast, while the conference finals will be exclusive to one network and the Stanley Cup Final will be on ABC this season before going to TNT in 2023.
The first games of doubleheaders will take precedence if they go to overtime and continue to air, while the second game will start on an ancillary channel. In other words, you will not need to change the channel if a game goes to overtime.
The ancillary channels are ESPNU, ESPNNews, TruTV, and HLN, so you’ll need to find where they are located on your channel guide because it will vary depending on your television provider. ESPN’s plan is to use ESPNU as the primary overflow for overtime situations, while Turner will focus on TruTV, giving you a reason to find the channel after March Madness.
Ok, but what about ESPN + and can I stream games?
ESPN + and Hulu exclusives were only for the regular season. All playoff games will be aired on traditional television.
When it comes to streaming games, you need to remember the following:
- If a game is on Turner it’ll be available in the TNT or TBS app, and TNTDrama.com and TBS.com. The caveat here is that to view those games, you’ll need an account with a TV provider.
- An ESPN or ESPN2 game will be available in the WatchESPN app, and once again you’ll have to use your TV provider login to view.
- If a game is on ABC, it’ll be simulcast on ESPN + as part of your ESPN + subscription.
- ESPN + will continue to house the replays of all games, no matter which network they initially aired on, as it did during the regular season.
What about local coverage?
Regional sports networks (RSN) still have broadcast rights in the local market in the first round, but there is a change from the prior setup with NBC.
Under the NBC deal, games on NBC Sports would be blacked out in the local market and in-market viewers would be required to watch on the RSN. Starting this season the game will be playing on both the RSN and the national channel, like how NBA playoff viewing has been set up, meaning you could switch from watching the first period on TNT to watching the second period on your local RSN.
After the first round, all games will be on national TV, and the RSNs will no longer carry them.
What about NHL Network?
NHL Network will not be carrying any games during the postseason.
(Photo by Jeff Bottari / NHLI via Getty Images)