Can You Tie in an Ice Hockey Game?

At the NHL level, teams can no longer tie. If teams are tied at the end of regulation, they will play an overtime period and potentially a shootout. Rules for overtime in the NHL differ from the regular season. Some leagues outside the NHL still allow for ties.

Watching a hockey game is an exhilarating experience. There is a lot of excitement, suspense, and fast-paced action. Many fans are on the edge of their seats waiting to see how the game will end. But what happens if the score is tied at the end of regulation?

This guide is going to go over ties in hockey, what the current rules are, and how they have changed over time.

Key Takeaways

  • NHL games cannot end in a tie. Regular season games that are tied at the end of regulation go to a 5-minute 3-on-3 overtime period, and then a shootout if needed. Games in some other leagues around the world can still end in ties.
  • Ties were allowed in the NHL up until the end of the 2003-04 season. They were removed after the season, largely in the hopes of increasing scoring and making games more exciting.
  • Overtime rules differ slightly in the playoffs, as games cannot end in a shootout during the postseason. Instead, games will have enough overtime periods as necessary to crown a winner.

Can You Tie in a Hockey Game?

The answer is that it depends. In smaller leagues (like the NCAA and recreational leagues) games can often still end in a tie. But if you are talking about the NHL and some other pro leagues, the answer is no, each game must have a winner and loser at the end.

If a game is tied after three full periods of hockey, the game will go to a 3-on-3 overtime period. Each team will have 5 minutes to try and score to win the game.

This used to be a regular 5-on-5 period, but the NHL recently changed the rules to 3-on-3 to make it more exciting and increase the chances of teams scoring in this extra period. If the game is still tied after these 5 minutes, the teams go to a shootout.

However, while teams cannot tie in the NHL now, that wasn’t always the case.

The History of Ties in the NHL

Throughout much of NHL history, games were able to end in a tie. For a long time, there was no overtime period at all, but when overtime was reinstated in the NHL in 1983, the game could still end in a tie if no one scored in overtime.

However, many teams were content to play defensively to hold onto the tie and secure a single point. This led to scoring in the league slowing down dramatically throughout the 1990s, a period which is often called the dead puck era.

As you can imagine, fans weren’t pleased about this lower scoring, especially after being blessed with incredibly high scoring throughout the 1980s. Eliminating ties was one of the rule changes made in response to the dead puck era and declining support for the sport.

After the 2003-04 season, ties were no longer allowed in the NHL in an effort to make games more exciting and high-scoring and stop teams from playing conservatively near the end of games.

Overtime Rules in the NHL Playoffs

As mentioned earlier, games that are tied at the end of regulation go to overtime. If the first overtime period doesn’t crown a winner, the game will go to a shootout until one has been decided.

However, this changes a little bit in the playoffs, as there are no shootouts. Teams will simply play overtime period after overtime period until one of the teams scores a goal. 

Also, in the playoffs, overtime periods are 20 minutes long as opposed to the 5 that regular season games are.

This led to some incredibly long games with multiple extra frames. In fact, there have been a few games that have had 6 overtime periods, which means the overtime lasted almost twice as long as a regulation game of hockey.


Here are a few frequently asked questions about ties in hockey games, along with their answers.

Which team had the most ties in a season?

The record for most ties in an NHL season is 24. In 1969-70, the Philadelphia Flyers tied in 24 of their 76 games played.

Which NHL has the most ties in team history?

The team with the most ties throughout their history is the Montreal Canadiens. Throughout its long history as a franchise, the team has tied 837 games. This is 22 more than the next closest team, the Detroit Red Wings.

Final Thoughts

While fans often go back and forth about whether it is good or not, teams cannot currently tie in the NHL. We hope that this guide helped you learn a little bit more about ties and their history in hockey.

Do you think the NHL should bring ties back or do you prefer each game always having a winner and loser? Let me know in a comment.

About Kale
Being from Canada, hockey is essentially a way of life. I instantly fell in love with the game since I was being put on skates. From playing as a child (and the occasional street hockey game with friends today) to being a fan for over 20 years, I’m here to share my knowledge and passion for hockey. Email:

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