The History of Overtime in the Chase for the Stanley Cup

In the first game of the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Tampa Bay Lightning needed a fifth overtime period to put away the Columbus Blue Jackets. That series included another OT game. And by the time the Lightning raised the Cup, the team had played eight overtime games, totaling 15 periods. That got me wondering if any team had played as much overtime en route to capturing the Cup.

The Methodology

I took a look at all NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs since 1986-87, when the league switched to its current playoff format involving four rounds, each a best-of-seven series. In 1979-80, the format was expanded to include 16 teams, but through 1985-86, the first round was a best-of-five series. While some aspects of the playoffs have changed over the past 33 seasons, such as which teams meet in the first round, the number of wins to earn the Cup has remained 16.

The 2019-20 Tampa Bay Lightning  set a record for the most playoff overtime enroute to winning the Stanley Cup.
In 2020 the Tampa Bay Lightning set a record for the most overtime enroute to winning the Stanley Cup. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Included here are all overtime games involving the eventual Stanley Cup champions, regardless of whether the champs won or lost each game. I included all overtime games in the four rounds each year, counted the number of overtime periods played (whether they lasted a full 20 minutes or ended with an early goal), and totaled the minutes and seconds played. 

The Raw Data

This table shows all of the Stanley Cup champions from 1986-87 through 2019-20 with all of the pertinent overtime data. As you can see, there is a huge range of OT played by teams that lifted the Cup, ranging from the most recent playoffs’ 216-plus minutes by the 2019-20 Lightning to a low of under seven-and-a-half minutes by the 1986-87 Edmonton Oilers.

Playoffs Overtime 1987-2020
Playoffs Overtime 1987-2020

Interesting Side Notes and Trivia

In 2018, the eventual Stanley Cup champion Capitals played four OT games and five OT periods in the first round against the Columbus Blue Jackets, then played a total of under five-and-a-half minutes of OT in the following three series. Beating the Blue Jackets required 59:17 of OT; winning the next three series needed only 5:27 of OT (all in the clinching Game 6 of the second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins).

Alex Ovechkin
Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals celebrates with the Stanley Cup. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images)

Game 5 of the second round of the 2016 playoffs between the Penguins and Lightning required only 53 seconds of OT, with Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson ending the game. But in the preceding game in that series, OT was even shorter, ending when Sidney Crosby scored just 40 seconds into OT.

In the 2015 Playoffs, the eventual champs, the Chicago Blackhawks, played two triple-overtime games and two double-overtime games – four of their five OT games lasted more than one period that year. That’s 11 OT periods in only five OT games.

Related: Game of Numbers: 2015 Stanley Cup Winners Edition

The 2012 Stanley Cup champion Kings played only four OT games on their way to the top – and won them all. That’s the most recent time that a team has won all of its OT playoff games and taken home the trophy.

Los Angeles Kings,
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman awards the 2012 Stanley Cup to LA Kings captain Dustin Brown (Bridget Samuels)

Game 2 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final between the eventual champion Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks went into overtime, but only for 11 seconds. Alexandre Burrows was the hero for the runner-up Canucks. That was the shortest overtime period of the modern playoff era.

In 2008, the Detroit Red Wings played only two OT games on their way to the Cup. The first lasted under two minutes, while the other lasted almost 50 minutes.

The last time that a Stanley Cup Final game was scoreless going into overtime was in 2004. The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (yes, that was the team name back then) scored 39 seconds into OT for a 1-0 victory. That was one of two OT games Anaheim won in that Cup Final series, but in three others they were shut out. They lost the Final to the New Jersey Devils in seven games.

The last time an NHL playoff game was scoreless going into a second overtime period was 2001, when the Los Angeles Kings beat the eventual Cup champion Colorado Avalanche in Game 6 of the Conference Semi-Finals. (That was the year that Ray Bourque finally raised the Stanley Cup.)

In the 2000 Stanley Cup Final, Game 5 between the Dallas Stars and Devils was scoreless going into the third OT. Dallas won, but lost the following game in double overtime, the Cup-clinching game for New Jersey. (Those were the only two overtime games the Devils played that year as they marched to the championship.)

In 1999, the Stars clinched two of their four series in triple overtime — the first round and the Final. (The Final winner was the infamous Brett Hull foot-in-the-crease goal. Buffalo fans, please remember that it was Game 6 of the series, not a blown call in a Game 7 triple-OT situation.)

Overtime in the Red Wings’ 1997 Stanley Cup championship was remarkable in the modern playoff era. Only one series included overtime – and three of four games in the series went to OT, with Detroit winning all three. Totaling six OT periods and 79:34 of extra ice time, the three overtime games came in a sweep of the Mighty Ducks.

In the 1994 Playoffs, the Rangers (eventual Cup winners) played three double-overtime games in the second round against the Devils. That seven-game series included 87 minutes of OT. That seems like a whole lot of hockey until you recall that the 2020 first-round series between the Lightning and Blue Jackets involved 95:39 of OT in only two (of five) games.

Mark Messier of the New York Rangers
Mark Messier hoists the Stanley Cup. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

In 1993 the Montreal Canadiens played 11 overtime games and over 113 minutes of OT en route to the Cup, including one double-overtime game. After losing the first playoff game in OT to the Quebec Nordiques, Montreal won an amazing 10 more OT games without another loss. In the Final (against the Kings), the Canadiens won three of the five games in OT. (They also won three OT games when they swept the Buffalo Sabres.)

In contrast to the 1993 Canadiens, the Stanley Cup-winning Penguins played only three overtime games in both the 1991 and 1992 postseasons. In 1991, each of the three OT games ended in under nine minutes; in 1992 OT play totaled 14 minutes for the three games.

Mario Lemieux Trophy, NHL, Milestones, Pittsburgh Penguins
Mario Lemieux won the Conn Smythe Trophy in leading the 1991-92 Penguins to the Stanley Cup. (Charles LeClaire-USPRESSWIRE)

The Cup-winning Edmonton Oilers played only two overtime games in both the 1987 and 1988 Playoffs. Only two other championship teams in the modern era of the postseason played as few OT games (2000 Devils and 2008 Red Wings). The 1987 squad holds the record for the fewest minutes of overtime on the way to lifting the Cup, a total of only 7:26 in the two games combined.

In the 33 seasons of the modern playoff format, 17 different teams have won the Stanley Cup. Three are Canadian teams — Edmonton, Calgary, and Montreal. They won five of the seven earliest Cups in this era. And no Canadian team has won it all since.

A Last Shot on the History of Overtime En Route to Winning the Stanley Cup

From under seven-and-a-half minutes to over 216 minutes, overtime has played a part in every drive to the Stanley Cup in the modern playoff era. In 33 seasons, 17 times a team has had to play at least the equivalent of an extra full game (60 minutes) during overtime. Five times an eventual champion played the equivalent of two full games during OT. In 2019-20, the Lightning set a record by playing the equivalent of more than three-and-a-half games of overtime. COVID-19 may have cost us a chunk of the regular season in 2019-20, but the Lightning’s unique playoff run stands alone for its overtime duration. At least for now.

Overtime numbers were calculated using data available from Hockey Reference and the NHL.

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