The Rules of Overtime in the NHL


How have the overtime rules in the NHL evolved?

Back in the days of Old Time Hockey and Eddie Shore, the NHL employed a 10-minute overtime period if regulation time in a game ended with the two teams tied. Teams could score as much as they wanted during those ten minutes, so it wasn’t impossible to win by multiple goals in overtime. If those ten minutes expired and a decision wasn’t reached, the game would end in a draw.

For standings purposes, this extra period simply acted as an extension of the game and had no additional bearing on the standings (or the NHL betting odds, for that matter). Fast forward to 1942. World War II was just getting hot overseas, and many players enlisted in their country’s armed forces and left the NHL. It was then that the NHL got rid of the overtime period, and ended games after 60 minutes, tie or not. 

Ahead of the 1983-84 season, the NHL brought back overtime, citing that the war was over, and the travel restrictions from that time were no longer in play (what took them so long is anyone’s guess). This time it was slightly different than the pre-war NHL. The teams would play a five-minute, sudden death overtime period. By 1996, the NHL reduced on-ice manpower to four skaters aside to open space for more offense.

How does overtime work in the NHL today?

In the 2015-16 season, the NHL adopted a new rule where only three players would skate per team during the overtime period. In the event of a penalty, a fourth man would be added onto the ice, and if/when the penalty expires, the player is let out of the box, and the teams continue at four aside until the next whistle. The winning team scores two standings points, while the loser is awarded one for making it to overtime (which has elicited some dissent within the hockey community).

During the 2004-05 lockout, the NHL added the infamous penalty shot shootout to eliminate ties if overtime doesn’t decide the game. Each team sends at least three shooters out to take a breakaway against the opposing goalie. The team with the most goals wins the game. If it’s tied, they go to extra innings (so to speak), where they keep going until one team scores and the other doesn’t.

The longest shootout on record is 20 rounds, achieved by the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers on December 16, 2014. Imagine getting that right in a bet.
In short, the teams play three on three for up to five minutes, and if that doesn’t decide the game, a shootout is used to determine the winner of the game.

How are playoff overtime rules different?

All the above applies to regular season games only. Playoff hockey works in a much simpler manner. The teams just keep playing until someone scores. Regular five on five rules, 20-minute periods, keep going until the puck finds the back of the net. It could take a matter of seconds, it could take minutes, it could take hours.

Fans who watched the most recent edition of the playoffs may recall the Columbus Blue Jackets and Tampa Bay Lightning playing 10:27 into the fifth overtime period on August 11, 2020 until Brayden Point scored for the Bolts to end a marathon game. It was a long way away from becoming the longest game in NHL history. That distinction belongs to Game 1 of the semi-finals of the 1936 playoffs between the Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Maroons. The game went scoreless deep into the sixth overtime, until the 16:30 mark when Detroit’s Mud Bruneteau beat Lorne Chabot for the only goal of the game at 2:25am. The teams played nearly three full games’ worth of hockey (176:30 to be exact) to determine a winner.

There are only instances where Stanley Cup Final deciding game went to overtime in NHL history. The first was in 1950, when Detroit’s Pete Babando scored to defeat the New York Rangers. The second and final time was just 4 years later, where the same Red Wings defeated the Montreal Canadiens on a fluky goal credited to Tony Leswick.
But whatever the stakes, and no matter how long it takes, many sports fans, not just hockey fans, will proclaim that playoff overtime hockey is about as exciting as it gets in sports. 

*Credit for the main photo belongs to Chris O'Meara / AP Photo

About the Author
Jeremy Tuch

Jeremy is a copywriter, published blogger, author, and expert in ice hockey and baseball.

His articles have previously been published at FanSided’s Puck Prose as well as First Line Rover, and has regularly appeared on the podcast Chatter Up running the trivia segment of the show.

Jeremy is a proud native of New Jersey, and is not afraid to tell you all about it. 

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