Can a Hockey Game End In a Tie? (Overtime & Shootout Rules)

Any hockey fan will tell you the most exciting part of a hockey game is watching two teams battle out in sudden-death overtime.

The most vivid hockey memories for fans are sitting on the edge of their seats in anticipation of their team winning the game, series, or championship by a single goal in overtime.

In relatively recent history, two memories come to mind: The first was the 2010 Olympics when Sidney Crosby scored the “Golden Goal.”

And… the second memorable overtime winner was also in 2010 oddly enough. It was Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers. The hockey game ended in a tie, sending it to overtime where Patrick Kane scored 4 minutes in to OT 1 to win the Blackhawks their first of three championships in 6 years.

The question is… can hockey end in a tie?

In this article, we’ll show you whether or not hockey can end in a tie, what happens if the game ends 0-0, and how overtime and shootouts work (in the regular season and playoffs).

Let’s dive in!

Here’s Whether Hockey Can End In a Tie: 

Yes, hockey games can end in a tie (in regulation). But, if the game is tied after three periods, it will go to a 5-minute, 3-on-3, sudden-death overtime period where the first team to score wins. If the game is still tied at the end of the extra period, it will go to a shootout. In the playoffs, there is no shootout. Tied games will be played as 20-minute, 5-on-5 overtime periods until one team scores to win.

When Did the NHL Stop Tie Games?

Like soccer, hockey games once had tie games. Teams would battle out for three 60 minute periods only to finish with a draw. Then, they’d head home and work on getting a win the next game.

But, that all changed two decades ago when the NHL’s final season with tie games ended in 2003-04.

After the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Calgary Flames at the end of the 2004 playoffs, the NHL entered into difficult times.

The entire 2004-05 season was a write-off as the NHL entered into a lockout season. 

Source: Bleacher Report

At the end of the non-existent season, the NHL cut ties with their previous tie-game system with a major rule change:

Shootout Rule: A 5-minute overtime period (4 on 4) followed by a shootout.

The hockey shootout is similar to how soccer has a penalty shootout during the knockout phase of a competition. Teams will put their best players out to shoot on the goal one at a time. In ice hockey, it’s the best of three rounds, followed by a round-by-round format until there’s a winner.

This wasn’t the first time overtime was introduced in the NHL either.

In fact, NHL games were still played in overtime as of the 1999-00 season. The difference was – in 1999 to 2004, NHL games that were tied at the end of regulation went to a single overtime period of five minutes. If no one scored at the end of the overtime period, the game ended as a draw and both teams walked away without a win.

In 2005-06, the NHL decided they wanted someone to come out as the victor.

So, they introduced the shootout as a way to cap off any overtime periods that didn’t reach a conclusion.

Here’s a video recapping the top shootout goals from the NHL’s 2022-23 season:

Fast-forward to 2024, and the National Hockey League (NHL), the American Hockey League (AHL), and most other professional hockey leagues have adopted a regulation-overtime-shootout system to determine a clear winner of their hockey games.

This ensures that more scoring happens. But, it also ensures that one team always walks away from the game with more “points” that elevate their position in the standings, which is necessary to reach the playoffs.

Why Were Tie Games Eliminated from the NHL?

The NHL has gone through several eras of hockey, all with different rules, regulations, and equipment that have shaped the history of the game. 

Since the inception of the NHL, there have been waves of high scoring and low scoring decades.

Most notably, if you ask any avid hockey fan about these high and low-scoring eras, they could quickly give you a timeline from the past 50 years that looks like this:

  • 1980s: High Scoring
  • 1990s: Low Scoring
  • 2000s: Low Scoring
  • 2010s: High Scoring
  • 2020s: High Scoring

Just check out this awesome graph created by Christian Lee showing how the average number of goals per game has changed over the years. 

Some people even call the 90s-2000s the “dead puck era.” This low-scoring, defensive era of hockey history is almost looked at as the Dark Ages of the NHL,

The reason?

Hockey games were boring.

It was still hockey, so it was awesome. But, you get my point. The game wasn’t as exciting. Goals are everything in the game. 

And, of course, the game wouldn’t be the same if we had 20-50 goal games every game. That would take away from the excitement of each goal.

But, there’s certainly a balance to maintain.

That’s why the NHL introduced different rule changes like:

  • Penalty shots (1921)
  • The Shootout (2005)
  • 3-on-3 Overtime (2015)

Now, partway into the 2020s, you can see that scoring is on the rise again — and hockey games are arguably more exciting than in the late 90s and early 2000s.

Can an Ice Hockey Game End With No Score?

After three periods of 20 minutes each, a hockey game can technically end with no score. It can be 0-0. But, this doesn’t end the game. Regulation time (60 minutes) will end. But, the game will head to overtime where both teams will compete in a sudden-death style of hockey: the first one to score wins the game.

In this case, the game will end 1-0 and the game comes to a halt immediately.

Interesting Fact: If a hockey game ends 0-0 at the end of  regulation time, and no one scores in overtime, the game will head to a shootout. But, here’s what’s interesting: both goalies will be awarded a shutout performance (even if they let in a goal during the shootout).

How Many Overtimes Can Happen in the NHL?

During regular season games, if there is a tie at the end of the game, it will go on to a sudden-death format of overtime.

The overtime period will be played 3-on-3 (rather than 5-on-5), and whoever scores on the opposing goaltender will win the game.

Keep in mind, this is only a five-minute overtime period, so most games that head to overtime end in overtime.

But, if no one scores in the five-minute sudden-death overtime period, then the game will not go to another overtime period. Instead, it will head to a best-of-three shootout.

If no one scores in the three-round shootout, it will continue round by round until someone scores. The game will not end until somebody scores in the shootout. 

This has led to some really long shootouts such as this famous one between the Rangers and Capitals in 2005 (a few months after the shootout was introduced to the NHL):

In it, Marek Malik (not an avid goal scorer) did the craziest between-the-legs move to win the game for the Rangers after a whopping 14 rounds!

How Many Overtimes Can Happen in Playoff Hockey?

While regular-season games are limited to a single 5-minute period (followed by a shootout), the rules are different come playoff time.

In the NHL Playoffs, games that are tied after the end of regulation (three periods) will compete in a sudden-death overtime period just like the regular season.

But, there are a couple of differences:

  • Overtime is done in 20-minute periods (not 5 minutes of overtime)
  • There is no shootout
  • Teams will play as many overtime periods as it takes to get a goal

This type of “no one leaves until someone scores” rule has resulted in some incredible hockey.

Here are some of the best overtime goals from playoff games in recent history:

What Were the Most Overtime Periods Ever Played in the NHL?

While endless overtime has created some of the greatest moments in hockey, it’s also resulted in some incredibly long hockey games.

In fact, there have been several occasions where NHL games have gone on to a second period of overtime, followed by a 3rd, 4th, and even fifth.

But, one game tops them all.

It was 1936 and the Detroit Red Wings Were Playing the Montreal Maroons for Game 1 of the national semifinal:

  • The game went to 6 overtime periods before someone scored.
  • The game had a total of 9 total periods played (the equivalent of 3 hockey games)
  • The game was 176 minutes and 30 seconds long (nearly 3 hours)

What Was the Longest 0-0 NHL Game?

The longest NHL game to go 0-0 was also the longest game in NHL history.

In 1936, the Montreal Maroons and Detroit Red Wings faced off against one another.

No one scored in 60 minutes of regulation time (3 periods). So, it went to overtime. Then another overtime. Then another. And so on.

Eventually, at 16 and a half minutes into the sixth period, Mud Bruneteau (who names their kid “Mud”?) scored for the Detroit Red Wings to defeat the Montreal Maroons 1-0.

When Did the NHL Start Doing 4-on-4 Overtime?

At the start of the 1999-00 season, the NHL started doing 4-on-4 overtime. 

Before this, they were doing 5-on-5 overtime periods for years.

But, if no one scored at the end of the overtime period, the game would end in a tie. It wasn’t until the 2005-06 NHL season when the shootout was introduced which forced an eventual winner, ending the possibility of a tie in an NHL game.

Why Did the NHL Start Doing 3-on-3 Overtime?

After 16 seasons of testing out the 4-on-4 overtime format, the NHL made a major change.

In 1999-00, they changed the rules from 5-on-5 overtime to 4-on-4. But, in 2015-06, the league changed the format to 3-on-3.

This format with even fewer players was introduced to encourage more scoring in overtime (and reduce the number of games going to a shootout).

The result?

Goals in overtime increased. And, most hockey fans would admit it certainly ramped up the excitement factor. 

Here’s a video highlighting the craziness of the 3-on-3 format:

Compared to the 4-on-4 format, the 3-on-3 format leads to more odd-man-rushes like 3-on-2s, 2-on-1s, and breakaways — adding more offensive opportunities to ensure more pucks cross that sought-after goal line.


Recent Posts