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Most sports fans attend contests to see a winner and loser in each game. However, it’s always possible that the result ends in a tie. To combat this, the majority of major sports leagues around the world, including hockey, have implemented some type of tie-breaking system to guarantee each game has a winner and loser.
A hockey shootout is a penalty shot competition which is used to decide the result of a game that is tied after regulation time and is still tied at the end of overtime. In a shootout a player starts with the puck at center ice and as a scoring opportunity 1-1 against the opposing teams goalie. The puck can only move forwards.
Shootouts are commonplace in most hockey leagues across the globe and have been used to decide games by the National hockey League (NHL) since the 2005/06 season. The league holds a shootout if a game is still level after a five-minute sudden death overtime period.
In the NHL, each team chooses three players to take a penalty shot on the opposing netminder during a shootout.
The teams alternate taking shots and if the game is still level after three shooters then the shootout continues and becomes a sudden-death format.
As soon as one team manages to score and the other team doesn’t after the same amount of shots then the shootout is over.
What Happens in a Shootout
The puck sits at center ice and the referee blows the whistle. The player takin the shot skates forward with the puck and then attempts to score a goal against the goalie – no other players are present.
The scenario then switches and the opposing teams players take an opportunity against the other goalie and so forth until a winner is declared.
Here are some of the key rules that apply during a shootout.
- The home team chooses if it will shoot first or second in the shootout.
- Shooters must move the puck forwards
- A shooter is allowed one shot only on an attempt and can’t touch the puck after releasing it
- The goaltender isn’t allowed to throw their stick or any other piece of equipment at the shooter
- A goaltender may be changed before the shootout begins but not after the first shot is taken unless due to injury
- A player may take only one shot unless all players have taken their turn
No Shootouts in Playoffs
While most league use a shootout system during the regular season, the NHL and other top leagues don’t implement one during the playoffs.
Once the postseason begins, all tied games are decided by sudden-death overtime. The NHL plays full 20-minute overtime periods with an intermission between each stanza.
This means contests could last several hours and periods until a winner is decided. Extending the overall game time considerably compared with a regular win over 3 periods.
The longest overtime contest in NHL history took place in the 1935/36 Stanley Cup semifinals when the Detroit Red Wings beat the Montreal Maroons 1-0. The winning goal was scored in the sixth period of overtime after an additional 116 minutes and 30 seconds of play.
However, it’s believed the longest overtime game in pro hockey history was played in 2017 when the Storhamar Dragons edged the Sparta Warriors 2-1 in the Norwegian League playoffs.
The game went to eight periods of overtime and was decided after an extra 157 minutes and 14 seconds of play.
In total, the contest lasted 8.5 hours. You can just imagine how physically and mentally exhausted the players and coaches would have been.
History of NHL Overtime
Although shootouts were introduced by the NHL less than 20 years ago, the league used a 10-minute overtime period to settle tie games up until 1942. After that, tie games were allowed and each team was awarded a point in the standings for a draw.
The NHL then introduced a five-minute overtime period in 1983 to try and reduce the number of ties. If the game wasn’t decided in the extra session it would remain a tie.
Then in 1999, the league decided to award one point in the standings for each team if a game ended in a tie after 60 minutes of regulation time while an extra point was awarded to a team that won the game in overtime.
Teams that lose games in overtime or a shootout shootout have the result listed in the standings as (OTL), which means overtime loss.
A shootout in hockey is somewhat controversial as many hockey purists say it’s a gimmick and don’t believe it to be a suitable way to decide a game. They believe the overtime period should be extended to 10 minutes or the game should simply end in a tie.
Those who support shootouts believe it’s a fast and exciting way to decide a game and is very simple for fans to follow as it provides an immediate result.
Shootouts and Player Statistics
Most hockey leagues keep separate shootout statistics as they keep track of the shooter and goaltender records. For example, a player will be known to have scored on 50% of shootout attempts by scoring on five of 10 attempts etc and a goalie may have a 90% save record by saving nine of 10 shots.
However, these statistics aren’t added to individual and league league totals when it comes to goals scored, saves, save percentage and goals-against average.
Shootout goals and saves aren’t added to a league’s overall game statistics, including plus-minus stats.
When a game ends in a 0-0 tie after regulation time each netminder is credited with a shutout no matter of who wins in overtime or a shootout and how many goals may be scored in a shootout.
The team which wins in a shootout will have a single goal added to their season total while the losing team will have a goal against added to theirs.
No matter how many goals are scored in a shootout, the final score will be listed as a one-goal victory. For example, a game which ends 3-3 after regulation time will be recorded as a 4-3 final following a shootout.
Since nobody has come up with a better solution for deciding the score of a tie hockey game it appears that shootouts are here to stay unless hockey leagues revert to allowing tie games in the standings.
Can Hockey Games End in a Tie
In some leagues yes, but since the NHL changed it’s rules top division games can no longer end in a tie. A shootout after sudden-death is played until a winner of the game is found.
I wrote more about this in my article: Can Hockey End In a Tie? The Brutal Truth