What Is Overtime in Hockey? Everything You Need to Know


A professional hockey player goes down to one knee for a slapshot.

Oftentimes, regulation (60 minutes) is not long enough to determine the winner of a hockey game. When regulation time ends and the score is tied, games go into overtime to determine the winner.

So, what is overtime in hockey?

Overtime is an extra period at the end of a tied hockey game that’s used to determine the winner. The overtime period is “sudden death” and is over once either team scores, with the scoring team declared the winner. If no goals are scored during the period, a shootout will decide who wins.

Overtime is a critical component of hockey, as around 23% of games are decided in overtime throughout a normal NHL regular season. Similar to the regular season, about 25% of playoff games are decided in overtime. For more information on the rules and history surrounding overtime, as well as much more, we encourage you to read on.

NHL Overtime Rules

Overall, the regulation rules apply to the overtime period in regards to penalties. Regarding the regular-season points awarded, when a game reaches overtime both teams are awarded a point for the regular-season standings, the team that ultimately wins the game, either in the sudden death overtime period or the shootout, is awarded an extra point.

A little-known fact is that if a team pulls their goalie for an extra skater during overtime and loses the game, the team is not awarded the point for reaching overtime.

While team points are awarded for overtime wins during the regular season to determine regular-season standings, no points are awarded during the playoffs. Playoff series are determined by the number of wins a team has.

Each round of the playoffs consists of a best of 7 series, with the first team to earn four wins in the series advancing to the next round of the playoffs for another seven-game series. It is due to this playoff format that the Stanley Cup is widely regarded as the hardest championship to win in all of sports.

With the possibility of playing up to 28 games in the playoffs, a team that advances to the Stanley Cup Final can play up to 34% of a full regular season, just in the playoffs.

How Long Is Overtime in Hockey?

During the regular season, the overtime period is 5 minutes, whereas during the playoffs each overtime period is 20 minutes. During the regular season, if the overtime period expires the game goes to a shootout, however, in the playoffs continuous overtime periods are played until a goal is scored.

How Does Overtime Work in the NHL Regular Season?

During the regular season, overtime is played with three players aside, which makes for some exciting and fast-paced hockey. In contrast to normal rules, if a player takes a penalty, the opposing team will gain a player, because each team must play with at least three players on the ice.

For example, if a penalty is taken in overtime, the offending team will play shorthanded (4-on-3). Besides the number of players on the ice and penalty rules, all other rules are consistent with regulation rules.

This remains the same for any subsequent penalties that are taken throughout the overtime period as well until a team reaches the maximum number of players on the ice at five, after that penalties “stack up” and become longer.

The 3-on-3 overtime format was introduced to the NHL during the 2015-16 season to promote scoring. Before this, overtime was played with four players aside. The 3-on-3 format has increased the entertainment value of overtime as teams will often play their most creative and skilled players to maximize the “extra ice”.

As a result of playing 3-on-3, there are many odd-man rushes, and consequently scoring chances. Before the 3-on-3 overtime and since the implementation of the shootout, 56% of games that went into overtime were decided in a shootout. Since the 3-on-3 format was introduced, only about 8% of NHL games now go to a shootout.

Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals currently holds the record for the most career overtime goals in NHL history with 24.

How Does Overtime Work in the NHL Playoffs?

If the score is tied at the end of regulation in the playoffs, the game goes into overtime. Overtime is played just like any other period: overtime periods are 20 minutes, there are five players aside, and the same penalty rules apply. Overtime is continuously played until a goal is scored and there are no shootouts in the playoffs.

As with the regular season, playoff overtimes are sudden death, meaning the first team to score wins the game. Due to the continuous nature of overtime in the playoffs, overtimes can often be major momentum boosts throughout a playoff series. When asked, players often prefer losing by wide margins in the playoffs to losing a game in overtime, particularly in longer games.

This holds especially true for the Stanley Cup Finals. Throughout the history of the NHL, a remarkable 17 Stanley Cup Final series have ended in overtime, most recently in 2014 when the Los Angeles Kings defeated the New York Rangers in overtime of the 5th game to clinch the Stanley Cup.

The record for the most playoff games that went to overtime in one season is 28 during the 1992-93 season, which represents a staggering 33% of all playoff games that year. In the 2020-21 playoffs, 27 games (32%) were decided in overtime.

The shortest overtime in NHL history occurred in 1986 when the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Calgary Flames just nine seconds into overtime!

What Happens When a Penalty Is Called in Overtime?

A referee sends a player to the penalty box in overtime.

The rules during overtime are enforced the same as regulation and penalties are called accordingly. During the regular season, overtime is played with three players aside.

Because NHL rules state that a team can play with no less than three players on the ice when a penalty is called, the non-offending team gets an additional player and the powerplay is played 4-on-3 for the remainder of the penalty.

Similarly, if another penalty is taken by a team while killing a penalty, the non-offending team receives an additional player to make it a 5-on-3 power play until the first penalty expires or a goal is scored.

During the playoffs, overtime periods are played with five players aside at even strength just as any other period during the game. As such, teams that commit a penalty will skate down a man (5-on-4) until the penalty ends.

How Many Overtimes Are There in the Playoffs?

Playoff overtime differs from regular-season overtime. Overtime during the regular season is 5 minutes long and is played with three players aside; if no goals are scored during the overtime period, the game goes into a shootout.

However, overtime during the playoffs is 20 minutes long, played with five players aside and is played continuously and consecutively until a goal is scored and a winner determined. 

Theoretically, there is no limit to the number of overtimes that can be played in the playoffs, teams will continue playing until a winner is determined.

When Did Sudden Death Overtime Start in the NHL?

The modern 5-minute overtime format was introduced to the NHL for the 1983-84 season. Until the 2005-06 season, when an overtime period expired with no goals scored, the game ended in a tie, and both teams were awarded a point.

However, it was during this season that the shootout was introduced to the NHL and since then ties have not been awarded in the NHL.

What Happens if No Goals Are Scored in Overtime?

Overtime in hockey is played as a sudden death period meaning once a goal is scored the game is over and the scoring team is declared the winner. During the regular season, if the overtime period ends with neither team scoring a goal, the game will go to a shootout to determine the winner. Shootouts are the final method of declaring a winner in the regular season.

If no goals are scored in overtime during the playoffs, the teams will take a regular intermission break as the ice is resurfaced before playing another overtime period. This will continue until a team scores a goal, winning the game in the process.

What Is a Shootout in Hockey?

A hockey player takes his turn during a shootout.

During the regular season, if teams are tied after regulation and the 5-minute overtime period, the teams compete in a shootout. The shootout, introduced for the 2005-06 season, is a series of penalty shots between the teams. Before the shootout, if teams were still tied at the end of overtime, the game would end in a tie and both teams received a point.

Shootouts are currently one of the most polarizing NHL rules as they feature un-challenged breakaway-style penalty shots. With points in the NHL being very hard to come by, many NHL purists believe that a shootout is a gimmick that should not determine which team gets the extra point; however, the shootout has proven to be a fan-favorite as it highlights creativity for shooters.

To start each shootout, teams each get three penalty shots, after which the team with the most goals is declared the winner. If no winner is still declared, the teams will go into a sudden-death shootout where the teams will alternate one attempt at a time until a winner is declared.

Generally, all players are eligible to participate in shootouts, except for players that were given a 10-minute misconduct penalty; if time remains on the misconduct after the overtime period, that player is ineligible to shoot in the shootout.

Currently, Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks holds the record for most shootout goals with 50, and Erik Christensen, who is now retired, owns the best shootout percentage among players with at least 50 attempts, scoring on roughly 53% of his attempts.

Does a Team Get Points for an Overtime or Shootout Loss?

During the regular season in the NHL, the standings are determined by the points of each team. The NHL awards 2 points for a win and 0 points for a loss in regulation. Additionally, teams losing in overtime or a shootout are awarded 1 point in the standings, whereas a team that wins in overtime or a shootout is awarded 2 points.

Since the shootout was introduced into the NHL, a new team stat category, “regulation and overtime wins” (ROW) was implemented as an additional tie-breaker. In hockey, the first tiebreaker between two teams tied in points at the end of the season is regulation wins (RW) and the second is ROW.

How Does Overtime Work in Minor League Hockey?

Overtime in minor league hockey varies greatly from league to league. However, overtime periods usually last 3-5 minutes and games may be able to end in a tie; this is due to scheduling restrictions that many minor league teams face.

However, consistent with the NHL, during the playoffs in minor league hockey, continuous overtimes are played until a winner is determined.

FAQ

What Is the Longest Game in NHL History?

The longest game in NHL history took place on Mar. 24, 1936, between the Detroit Red Wings and the Montreal Maroons, which had a total game time of 176:30. The game ended with a goal scored by Mud Bruneteau in the 6th overtime, leading the Red Wings to a 1-0 win.

The longest game in modern NHL history took place on May 4, 2000, between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins, which had a total game time of 152:01. The Flyers beat the Penguins 2-1 in the 5th overtime on a goal scored by team Captain Keith Primeau.

The Flyers would go on to win the series before losing in the Eastern Conference Finals in seven games to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils.

Who Has the Most Overtime Game Winning Goals?

None other than perhaps the greatest goal scorer of all time, Alex Ovechkin, of the Washington Capitals, holds the record for most overtime goals at 24. The next closest active player is Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins with 18.

Unsurprisingly, these two are well on their way to set records for career overtime points. Ovechkin shares the current record of 37 with former New Jersey Devil Patrick Elias, followed closely by Crosby, who has 36 career overtime points.

Joe Sakic, now retired, currently owns the record for most playoff overtime goals with eight, however, Patrick Kane and Corey Perry are tied for the most among active players with five each. Alex Galchenyuk of the Montreal Canadiens holds the record for most overtime goals in a season, scoring five during the 2016-17 season.

How Many Rounds Was the Longest Shootout?

The longest shootout in history was 20 rounds in a game played between the Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals on Dec. 16, 2014. The game ended with Nick Bjugstad scoring on Roberto Luongo. That game also set records for most shootout goals by both teams (11), a single team (6), and saves by a goalie (15).

Who Has the Most Shootout Goals?

The record for most shootout goals in a career belongs to Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks with 50. Former New Jersey Devil, Ilya Kovalchuk, set the record for most shootout goals in a single season with 11 during the 2011-12 campaign.

What Is the Most Playoff Overtime Games Played in a Post Season by One Team?

In the 1992-93 season, the Montreal Canadiens played 11 overtime games, walking away with a record of 10-1. The 1992-93 Canadiens also hold the record for most playoff overtime wins in a single postseason with 10. Those 10 overtimes made the difference as the Montreal Canadiens ended up winning the 16 required games to win the Stanley Cup that year.

Montreal must have an affection for overtime as the Canadiens also own the record for the most overtime games played in a single series at five. However, this record was set by the 1950-51 team in the second round of the playoffs that year. The Canadiens would go on to lose in the Stanley Cup Final to the Toronto Maple Leafs that year.

When Was the First Playoff Overtime Game in the NHL?

The first playoff overtime game occurred in the 1919 Stanley Cup Final in a game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Seattle Metropolitans. The game was played before modern NHL rules and the game ended in…a tie!

The first games to go to overtime in the regular season occurred on Oct. 5, 1983, when the Minnesota North Stars and Los Angeles Kings were tied 3–3, and when the Detroit Red Wings and Winnipeg Jets were tied 6–6; both of those games ended in a tie.

The first regular-season game that was decided in overtime was played just a couple of days later on Oct. 8, 1983, when the New York Islanders scored in overtime to defeat the Washington Capitals 8–7.

Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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