You won’t find a more entertaining and exciting extra period in sports than overtime in the NHL.
The sudden-death factor in OT adds tension and suspense and teams go back and forth, up and down the ice with scoring chances on each end.
Since the NHL established the 3-on-3 format in overtime for the regular season, it has been must-watch TV. And of course, when it comes to the postseason, is there anything better than overtime playoff hockey?
There are some differences between the two and for those who aren’t clear on how overtime works in the NHL, here is an explainer on what happens if a game is tied after regulation in the regular season and playoffs.
MORE: What are the longest overtime games in NHL playoff history?
NHL overtime rules 2022-23
The NHL changed its overtime format ahead of the 2015-16 season, adopting 3-on-3 OT. The AHL and ECHL had used this format before the NHL decided to implement it in place of 4-on-4.
The full section of the NHL rulebook on overtime can be found here.
NHL overtime rules for preseason and regular season
- Teams play a five-minute overtime period of 3-on-3 hockey
- The OT period is played sudden-death style, so the first team to score wins
- After the five minutes, if no one has scored, the game goes to a shootout
- Each team selects three shooters to go for the three rounds of the shootout. Each team shoots once per round
- The team with the most goals scored after the three rounds wins the game
- If the teams score the same amount of goals in the three rounds, then it goes round by round until one team scores and the other does not
MORE: How does the NHL playoff bracket work? Explaining hockey’s postseason format
NHL overtime rules for playoff games
- If the game is tied after regulation, the teams will play another full 20-minute period of overtime at 5-on-5 hockey
- It is once again sudden-death style, so the first team to score wins the game
- If no one scores in the first OT period, the game continues into a second, and a third, and so on and so forth until a team scores to win it
History of NHL overtime rules
The NHL adopted a 5-on-5, 20-minute overtime period in 1921 before slimming it down to 10 minutes in 1927. At the time, the league still used the sudden-death format.
The next year, the league changed to non-sudden death, meaning the period would run the full 10 minutes. If the score remained tied at the end of OT, it was declared a draw.
In 1942, due to wartime restrictions with train schedules, overtime was eliminated from regular-season play. Any game tied after regulation would end in a tie. Playoffs continued to have 20-minute sudden-death OT periods.
Over 40 years later, the NHL reimplemented the OT period, this time with a five-minute, sudden-death period. The league continued with the 5-on-5 format until 1999, when it changed to 4-on-4 play for the regular season. It was also this season that teams got a point if they lost in OT and two points for winning. If no team scored in OT, both teams earned a point.
The shootout was put in place in 2005 after the NHL lockout. If no team scored in OT, the shootout would decide the winner. This eliminated ties in the game of hockey.
Finally, the 3-on-3 format was adopted in 2015.
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