What are overtime rules in the NHL playoffs?

The NHL regular season has its own overtime rules, but they don’t carry over into the NHL playoffs. What do the rule changes look like between the regular and postseason?

2023 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five
2023 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five / Ethan Miller/GettyImages

If you’re looking for some of the most suspenseful finishes in professional sports, overtime during the NHL playoffs is where it’s at. But before we dive into the overtime rules for the postseason, let’s glance at the rules during the regular season first so you can see just how dramatically different things are when that sense of urgency heightens in the playoffs.

In the NHL regular season, we’re treated to 3-on-3 hockey with a five-minute overtime period if a game remains undecided after regulation. In the event of a power play, we will see a 4-on-3 game until the man advantage expires, and the game will continue at 3-on-3. 

The first team to score a goal in the five-minute extra frame wins. If there is still a tie at the end of the period, the two teams decide the game with a shootout. Thanks to the sudden-death approach, some of the most adrenaline-pumping moments of the NHL regular season occur in overtime, but when the Stanley Cup playoffs roll around, things go up a notch. 

In the postseason, the two teams play a fourth period after a 15-minute intermission that can last up to 20 minutes at 5-on-5. If there is a power play, then one team will start with a 5-on-4 man advantage, and both teams will revert to full strength when the penalty expires.  

Overtime rules in the NHL playoffs mean the game can go on for hours

If the two teams are still tied at the end of the 20-minute overtime frame, there is no shootout. Instead, the game continues into a second 20-minute overtime period at 5-on-5. The two teams will change ends following the end of the period, and they will continue playing until someone scores the game-winning goal. 

This means the game can go on for hours, as was the case during Game 1 of the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals on May 18th between the Florida Panthers and the Carolina Hurricanes. The goaltender duel was tied at two at the end of regulation, and it took until the final 13 seconds of the fourth overtime period before Matthew Tkachuk drilled home the game-winner.  

This means NHL overtime in the playoffs can theoretically go on for hours, and more than double the standard 60 minutes of regulation. This game lasted for 139 minutes and 47 seconds, 79:47 of which comprised the four overtime periods. 

So the next time you watch the Stanley Cup playoffs, be prepared for possibly three or more periods of adrenaline-pumping hockey. The game won’t end until someone scores a goal, and sometimes, that game-winner won’t come until five or more hours after the puck drops, sometimes even in the early hours of the following morning. 

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