The NHL has one of the most unique overtime systems in professional sports. The rules allow a game to go on for hours until one team finally puts the puck in the net. Theoretically, a playoff hockey game could never end. On the other hand, it could also be over in five seconds. That’s what makes it so electric to watch for the casual fan, and so agonizing to watch if your favorite team is involved.
So, what is the longest playoff hockey game ever played and how many hours did it take?
How does overtime in the NHL playoffs work?
Throughout the regular season in the NHL, teams play one period of overtime before settling the game with a shootout. In that case, each team sends five players to go one-on-one with the goalie and the team with the most goals in the end wins.
In the playoffs, though, that system changes dramatically. Instead of finishing the game with a shootout, the two teams play 20-minute OT periods until someone scores. In the sudden death format, teams play as many overtime periods as it takes to decide a winner.
Normally, playoff games end in the first few overtimes, but some can last all the way to the fourth or fifth extra period.
The 2020 NHL Playoffs kicked off with one of the longest games in league history
If you thought the 2020 NHL season couldn’t get any wackier, think again. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the league to drastically alter the playoff format, with 24 teams confining in two bubble cities to play the postseason in front of no fans.
If that wasn’t enough mayhem, the first game of the playoffs went so long the league was forced to postpone the night game until the next morning. The Columbus Blue Jackets and the Tampa Bay Lightning played an incredible five overtimes to start the 2020 playoffs with a bang.
After over 150 minutes of game time, the Lightning finally scored to earn the Game 1 win. The slug fest was the fourth-longest NHL playoff game of all time, but there’s one that went over a full period longer.
The longest NHL playoff game lasted nearly three hours of game time
The Lightning’s win over the Blue Jackets made NHL history, but it still wasn’t the longest playoff game in league history.
In 1936, the Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Maroons took six overtimes to decide a winner. The Red Wings eventually scored to seal a 1-0 victory, but it took them a full 176 minutes and 30 seconds of game time.
That’s four minutes away from three full games played in one. The battle took nearly three hours in game time, but that doesn’t even factor in the period breaks and puck stoppages. The game must’ve lasted six or seven hours from start to finish.