NHL Overtime Rules for the Regular Season and Playoffs

Posted on April 17, 2024 by Dan Kent
3 on 3 overtime NHL

Many fans new to the game of ice hockey often wonder about hockey overtime rules. Hockey has a complex overtime system that varies from the regular season to the playoffs. In this article, I will dive into both situations. By the end, you'll be an NHL overtime and strategy expert.

How does overtime work in the NHL?

During the NHL regular season, overtime works in a 5-minute 3-on-3 format, with the first team to score winning the game. If there is no winning goal in the 3-on-3 overtime, the game will go to a shootout, where a winner will be decided.

In the playoffs, however, it is a much different format. If there is no winner after 60 minutes of regulation, not only is the game played 5-on-5 instead of 3-on-3, but it is a 20-minute overtime period instead of five. In addition, there is no shootout in the NHL playoffs. Instead, suppose the game is tied after a 20-minute overtime period. In that case, there will be a 17-minute intermission followed by additional overtime periods.

This will continue indefinitely until a team scores and the winner is decided.

Is hockey sudden death over time?

All overtime situations in hockey are sudden death unless you have a local or amateur league that decides to utilize different rules. You may not be used to this if you are a fan of a sport like soccer or football.

Although football has transitioned to sudden death in the event someone scores a touchdown, if a team scores a field goal, the other team has a chance to receive the ball and score themselves. 

Did the NHL always have overtime?

No, the NHL has not always had overtime. The league was forced to stop overtime during the Second World War. And It wasn't until the early 1980s that the NHL decided to bring overtime back to the National Hockey League.

Over the period when the NHL got rid of overtime, games with the same score after regulation were called ties.

Before this, the NHL did have periods where it ran a non-sudden death overtime period, and if the game were tied after that period, it would end in a tie. However, I cannot see them swapping back to a sudden-death overtime style. 

What are the new NHL overtime rules?

As of right now, during the regular season, if teams are tied after regulation play, the game will go into a 5-minute overtime period. If no team scores, a shootout will decide the winner. In the playoffs, 5-on-5 sudden-death overtime is played in 20-minute periods until someone scores.

NHL Overtime Celebration

Overtime in the NHL playoffs has rarely changed. However, new rules have been added and tweaked during the regular season over the last few decades. In the 2000-01 NHL season, they adopted a 4-on-4 format to reduce the number of ties and encourage more scoring.

This would be accompanied by the shootout in 2005-06, and in 2015 the NHL would go even further to encourage more scoring in overtime, adopting a 3-on-3 format.

Is NHL overtime 3-on-3?

During the regular season, overtime is played in a five-minute period and 3-on-3. However, during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, overtime is played at  5-on-5 and twenty-minute periods.

Team strategies during overtime

The shift to 3-on-3 overtime resulted in NHL teams adapting their overtime strategies significantly. Because there is so much room on the ice for players, speed and possession of the puck are key.

A team will typically put out two forwards and a single defenseman. From there, winning the face-off is critical. It is generally difficult to gain possession of the puck in 3-on-3 unless it is a turnover or whistle from a scoring chance.

As mentioned, speed is the other critical element. Players often leave the attacking zone with the puck, retreat to their defensive zone, and begin a passing play up the ice to generate more speed and potentially odd-man rushes or breakaways.

So, if you see a player do this in overtime during the regular season, don't worry, it's not you going crazy, it's part of a typical strategy.

I will not be surprised if the NHL institutes some "over and back" rule as they have in basketball to discourage players from doing this. However, at this point, this is simply speculation by me. It would force teams to execute offensive plays instead of backtracking and waiting for the optimal move.

How do penalties work in overtime?

During regular season overtime, if a player takes a penalty, it will result in the game being played as a 4-on-3 powerplay until the next whistle after the penalty has expired or until a goal is scored. They do this because a 3-on-2 power play doesn't occur at any point in the game. An NHL team always has at least three players on the ice.

If the penalty expires, the player will leave the box, and the teams will play 4-on-4 until the next whistle. After that, they will go back to 3 skaters each.

In the postseason, penalties work like usual, as the teams play 5-on-5 in playoff games that go to overtime.

What happens if nobody scores in overtime hockey?

If no player scores during the overtime period in the regular season, the game will head to a shootout where each team assigns three shooters to take penalty shots against the opposing goalie.

What happens if no one scores in the shootout?

If the game is still tied after three shooters, the shootout will go into sudden death format, with each team assigning one more shooter to shoot until a team wins.

How do points work in hockey overtime?

The losers in overtime or the shootout get one out of two possible points. Meanwhile, the team that wins the game in overtime or a shootout receives two out of a possible two points, being awarded the extra point.

Although you still get two points for a shootout win, it is the least desirable way to win a hockey game. This is because if two or more teams are tied in the standings at the end of the regular season, the team who won the most games in regulation or overtime will win the tiebreaker.

If a player scores a goal in overtime, they will be awarded a point towards their individual totals. However, if they score a goal in the shootout, it will not be considered an individual point.

In the playoffs, there is no point-scoring system for overtime wins and no shootouts. 

What is the NHL playoff overtime rules?

In the case of the NHL playoffs, overtime is played five-on-five and in 20-minute periods. There is no shootout in the event nobody scores during the first overtime.

Instead, there will be a 17-minute intermission, and the players will continue to play 20-minute overtime periods until there is a winner. The NHL playoffs can be a gruelling endurance test because a game lasts longer than regulation time.

Although a rarity, a game could go into two, three, or even six potential overtime periods.

What is the longest OT in hockey?

One of the most extended overtime games in NHL playoff history almost made it to the end of the sixth overtime period. It occurred in 1936 when the Detroit Red Wings and the Montreal Maroons played 116 minutes of extra time. This works out to be almost three complete games in one if you factor in the three periods of regulation play.

Dan Kent

About the author

Growing up in a hockey hotbed (Calgary, Alberta. And yes, I'm an Oiler fan), I decided to put my love and knowledge of the game to work. I started at five and am still playing today into my early 30s. By acquiring Brave Stick Hockey and rebranding it to Big Shot Hockey in 2023, I plan to teach people about this great game and educate them on the best equipment and history of the game. On a career level, I am in finance, running one of the largest financial websites in Canada, Stocktrades.ca.

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