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What are the Rules of Hockey Overtime?

Hockey Overtime Rules

Hockey overtime can often leave fans scratching their heads, trying to navigate its unique set of rules. I’ve been in your skates during my initial years and share your confusion. 

Here, I dig deeper to help students learn all about how it works.

This blog will guide you through the ins and outs of hockey overtime rules, from regular season to playoff games, penalties, points awarded and more.!

Key Takeaways

NHL Overtime Rules for Regular Season

2 NHL Players

The NHL regular season overtime period consists of an additional 5-minute period played with four skaters on each team.

Overtime period and format

In the thrill of a tied NHL regular season game, an additional 5-minute period kicks in – the overtime. This period came back to life at the start of the ’83-’84 season, adding another layer of suspense to hockey games.

It usually starts with each team having three skaters on ice, excluding goaltenders, instead of five in regulation play – this rule was adopted in the 2015-16 season. The idea behind reducing players is simple but effective: more space for remaining players to skate and maneuver without facing too many defenders.

With such an open field, focus shifts towards keeping puck possession and creating scoring opportunities leading often to odd-man rushes or breakaways scenarios. If some lucky player manages to score within those intense five minutes, it’s game over – his team walks away victoriously! If not, buckle up for a nerve-wracking shootout!

Playing with four skaters

Four skaters on the ice during overtime isn’t just a numbers game, it’s a strategic show of hockey prowess that keeps fans gripped to their seats. In the NHL regular season overtime, teams switch from typical 5-on-5 action to daring 3-on-3 play.

This rule adjustment only applies during the regular season games as this format was adopted in the 2015-16 season for enhanced scoring opportunities. With fewer skaters maneuvering around, more space opens up enabling players to truly showcase their skating and stickhandling skills without constant defensive pressure.

The thrill doesn’t end there; this reduction in player count often leads to exhilarating odd-man rushes such as rapid-fire 2-on-1 chances or heart-stopping breakaways. 

One slip-up can easily tilt the balance towards an immediate game-winning goal because once a team scores in overtime, they’re declared winners right away – no second attempts, no room for doubts! 

This sudden death style makes every minute of hockey overtime intense and unpredictable; it’s like watching chess played at light speed on ice!

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No shootouts

During the NHL playoffs, unlike in regular season games, there are no shootouts to decide a match that’s tied at the end of regulation. I appreciate how this rule changes the game strategy and ultimately intensifies its appeal.

Instead of limiting it to a five-minute overtime period and then transitioning into a three-round shootout if needed as seen in regular-season play, playoff games feature multiple 20-minute sudden-death overtime periods until one team scores.

This can lead to some of the most dramatic moments and thrilling triumphs in NHL history – think back on those electrifying goals where players push their limits far into second or third overtimes! This change not only ups the ante but truly tests each team’s resiliency, persistence and stamina in pursuit of victory.

NHL Overtime Rules for Playoffs

A tense Hockey Moment in game

In NHL playoff games, overtime is played at five-on-five with 20-minute periods, just like normal play.

Overtime played at five-on-five

During the NHL playoffs, overtime is played at five-on-five, just like in regular regulation play. This means that both teams have a full roster of players on the ice, creating an intense and exciting atmosphere.

The game continues with 20-minute periods until a team scores and wins the game. If no goal is scored during the first overtime period, subsequent overtime periods are added until one team emerges victorious.

These additional periods allow for intermissions between them to give players a chance to rest and strategize for their next push towards victory.

20-minute periods like normal play

During the NHL playoffs, if a game is tied after regulation play, the team’s head into overtime. But unlike regular-season overtime, playoff overtime periods are played at 5-on-5 and last for a full 20 minutes, just like normal play.

This means that the teams have more time to battle it out on the ice, with each period presenting new opportunities for scoring and victory. It’s an intense and thrilling extension of the game where anything can happen, making it a must-watch for hockey enthusiasts.

What Happens if No Team Scores in Overtime?

A hockey puck on ice in empty arena

If no team scores during the 5-minute overtime period, the game goes into a shootout to determine the winner.

Additional overtime periods

In hockey, if there are no goals scored in the initial 5-minute overtime period, the game does not end. Instead, additional overtime periods are played until a team scores and wins the game. Here’s what you need to know about these additional overtime periods:

  • In the NHL regular season, if there is no winner after the initial 5-minute overtime period, the game continues with another 5-minute overtime period.
  • This process repeats until a team finally scores and wins the game.
  • There is no limit to how many overtime periods can be played during the regular season. Some games have gone on for multiple overtime periods before a winner is determined.
  • In playoff games, the rules for additional overtime periods are slightly different.
  • Playoff games have 20-minute sudden death periods instead of the 5-minute ones in regular-season play.
  • If a game remains tied at the end of a 20-minute playoff overtime period, another 20-minute period is played until one team scores and wins.
  • The length of these additional playoff overtime periods remains constant at 20 minutes throughout the entire game. There are no shootout scenarios in playoffs like there are in regular-season games.

In hockey overtime, the sudden death format adds an extra layer of excitement and tension to the game. This means that the first team to score a goal wins instantly, regardless of how much time is left on the clock.

It’s a thrilling race against time as both teams push their limits to find that winning goal. The sudden death format keeps fans on the edge of their seats and creates some of the most memorable moments in hockey history.

Penalty in Overtime

ice hockey referees

During overtime, if a penalty occurs, the non-offending team is awarded a power play opportunity for the duration of the penalty or until they score.

Power plays in overtime

During overtime in hockey, if a penalty occurs, both teams get an additional skater on the ice. This results in a 4-on-3 power play situation. Once the power play ends, the game reverts back to 4-on-4 until the next stoppage when it goes back to 3-on-3.

This allows for more open ice and scoring opportunities during overtime. The penalized team has to work hard to defend against the extra skater advantage while trying to kill off the penalty.

It adds an extra layer of excitement and strategy during overtime play in hockey.

Advantage for the team on power play

During overtime in hockey, if a penalty occurs, the team on the power play gets an advantage. They add an additional skater to the ice, creating a 4-on-3 situation. This gives the team on the power play more opportunities to score since they have one extra player than their opponents.

Once the power play ends or a goal is scored, the game reverts back to either 4-on-4 or 3-on-3 until the next stoppage. So, penalties in overtime can significantly impact the dynamics of the game and provide an advantage for one team over another.

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Awarding Points in Overtime

When a team wins in overtime, they receive two points in the NHL standings.

Points awarded for winning or losing in overtime

In the NHL, the points system can seem a bit confusing, especially when it involves overtime play. Let’s break it down for better understanding.

Match ResultPoints Awarded
Win in Regulation2 points
Win in Overtime2 points
Win in Shootout2 points
Lose in Regulation0 points
Lose in Overtime1 point
Lose in Shootout1 point

You can see that regardless of whether a team wins in regulation, overtime, or a shootout, they are awarded 2 points.

However, if a team loses in regulation time, they receive no points. Now, here’s the interesting bit – even if a team loses in overtime or a shootout, they still walk away with 1 point. 

This rule was introduced to address the reduced number of players on the ice during overtime and the unpredictability of the shootout. This single point, often known as the ‘loser point’, can be crucial in the race to the playoffs, adding a strategic dimension to the game we all love.

Impact on team standings

How does overtime affect team standings in the NHL? Well, here’s the scoop. In the NHL standings, a team that loses in overtime or the shootout still receives a point.

This rule was introduced to address the reduced number of players on the ice during overtime and shootout situations. These additional points can become crucial in races to make the playoffs, as teams are awarded one point for an overtime loss or shootout loss.

So even if your favorite team didn’t come out on top in overtime, they still have something to show for their efforts and stay in contention for postseason play.


In conclusion, the rules of hockey overtime add an exciting element to the game. Whether it’s the fast-paced 3-on-3 action in the regular season or the intense 5-on-5 play in playoff games, overtime can provide some of the most thrilling moments in hockey.

Understanding these rules allows fans to fully appreciate and enjoy this unique aspect of the sport.