Can Hockey End In A Tie? NHL Overtime Shootout Rules & More

Hockey Endings Explained

Can hockey end in a tie? The answer is it depends on the league. The NHL no longer has ties and has shifted to a shootout format to decide the winner. We’ll break down everything from the National Hockey League (NHL) overtime rules to how different international hockey leagues handle hockey ties.

Here’s a table with hockey overtime rules for various leagues:

League Overtime Format Tie Score Rules
NHL Regular Season 5-minute period, 3-on-3 format. Power play changes to 4-on-3 or 5-on-3 depending on penalties. If still tied after overtime, the game moves to a shootout with three rounds, followed by sudden death rounds if needed.
NHL Playoffs 20-minute periods at five-on-five, sudden death format. Continues until a goal is scored. No shootout. If the first overtime period ends without a goal, the game moves to a second overtime with the same format, continuing until a goal is scored.
NCAA Regular-season overtimes are 5 minutes, sudden death, played 3-on-3. Teams switch ends for overtime. Games can end in ties. Conferences may use a shootout after the initial 5-minute OT for league standings. Regular-season tournaments may use a shootout to break ties after OT. Additional timeout allowed in overtime.
IIHF & Olympics Preliminary round: 5-minute OT, 3-on-3.
Playoff round: 10-minute OT, 4-on-4.
Medal games: 20-minute OT, 5-on-5.
Shootout if tied after OT.
Initially three rounds, followed by sudden death if needed.

All About Ties in Hockey Games

First things first: no, NHL hockey games can’t end in a tie during the regular season. The NHL uses the ‘sudden-death’ method where the game keeps going until a team scores, making them the winners.

The NHL Overtime Rules

When a regular-season hockey game ends with a tie after regulation time (which is 60 minutes divided into three 20-minute periods), it shifts into ‘overtime’ (OT) which is an extra period of play. The game used to follow a 5-minute overtime period with a 4-on-4 player format, but since the 2015-16 season, the NHL now uses a 3-on-3 format.

Shootouts: The Game-Changing Rule

In 2005, the NHL introduced a change: if no team scores during overtime, they move to a shootout. Players from each side get turns to take penalty shots against the opponent’s goalie, starting with the visiting team. If there’s still a tie after three rounds, the shootout turns into a ‘sudden death,’ with more rounds until a team finally scores. That team gets an extra point and wins the game.

Playoff Rules Are Different

In playoff matches, OT rules slightly change. The focus switches from shootouts to 20-minute, sudden-death overtime periods with full 5-on-5 player teams on the ice. This major change requires the players to have high endurance and strength. In sudden death, the first team to score wins the game. 

Other Leagues and Amateur Games

Unlike at the NHL level, other hockey leagues and amateur games might end in a tie, depending on the local governing bodies’ rules. For example, College or NCAA Hockey allows for a tied hockey game end in their tournaments.

Rule Changes and Penalty Shots

The NHL made a new rule change and introduced the 3-on-3 format to make games better for television viewing. The new format makes games more intense and decreases the overall game time.

Penalty shots can also determine the game’s outcome. In penalty shots, a player starts from center-ice and aims to score a goal against the opposing goalie, with no other players in action. 

Can Hockey End In A Tie? The Impact of the Shootout Rule

Shootouts have been significant for NHL games since their introduction in the 2005-06 season, allowing a definite ending for tie games in the regular season. The longest-recorded NHL overtime game was between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins, which lasted six extra 20-minute periods after the end of regulation time. But now, lengthy games are rare due to the shootout rule. Different professional hockey leagues have different rules to resolve ties. For instance, the East Coast Hockey League uses different tiebreaker methods, while the NCAA’s ‘sudden death’ periods are shorter than the NHL.

Final Thoughts

The NHL’s rule to add shootouts didn’t just change a rule; it ended the era where ties were common. Now, each game is sure to have an ending. So, ‘can hockey end in a tie?’, well, not in the NHL. The overtime and shooting rules make sure every game has a winner.

Even though NHL rules change a bit each year, regular-season NHL games will never have a tie. Each game serves excitement and thrill until the final moment. And the next time you ask ‘Can hockey end in a tie?’, remember the NHL Overtime Shootout rules. Whether you’re a fan of regular season or high-stakes Stanley Cup Playoffs, you’re guaranteed a clear winner in every game.


  1. What is the NHL overtime rule? The NHL overtime rule is quite simple. If a match ends in a tie after the regular playtime, the game is extended into a 5-minute, 3-on-3 sudden-death overtime. If both teams remain tied after this 3-on-3 overtime, the match is finally decided through a shootout. Recently, the NHL’s league’s general managers reviewed this overtime format, discussing potential enhancements to encourage more offence during overtime.
  2. What are the overtime rules for the NHL playoffs 2023?The NHL playoff overtime rules for 2023 are pretty straightforward – when a playoff game ends in a tie after regular playtime, the teams face off in a full 20-minute overtime period. Unlike the regular NHL season where matches might end in a shootout, playoff games continue in these 20-minute sudden-death overtime periods until someone scores. It’s all about endurance and who can score that crucial goal first!
  3. When did 3-on-3 overtime start? The shift to a 3-on-3 overtime was implemented in the 2015-2016 season. The idea behind this was to make overtime more exciting and reduce the number of games decided by shootouts. It was a move that was well-received and brought dynamism and faster pace to the overtime in NHL games.
  4. What is the longest overtime in the NHL? The all-time record for the longest overtime in an NHL match belongs to a game between Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Maroons in 1936. This classic game went into an epic 6-overtime match, making it the longest in NHL’s rich history.
  5. How many overtimes until a shootout in NHL? For regular NHL season games, if teams remain tied after the 5-minute 3-on-3 overtime, the match is decided by a shootout. It’s an exciting way to ensure a result and award an extra point to the winning team. The format has been in place since the 2005-2006 season.
  6. How many overtimes are in NHL playoffs? In the NHL playoffs, there’s no specified limit to the number of overtime periods. Unlike the regular season where a tie is ultimately decided by a shootout, in playoffs, teams continue to play 20-minute sudden-death overtime periods until a goal is scored. This format assures that playoff games are decided by act of play, adding an intense, nail-biting suspense to matches that go into overtime.
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Tom Fitzgerald