(Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)
Is it really true that overtime games end in the first few minutes or go really long, with few games ending in between? We crunched the all-time data.
We can count on a few traditions whenever a Stanley Cup playoff game goes to overtime. For one, fans and pundits everywhere pick players from each team to score the winning goal. Don Cherry has done it for years on Coach's Corner, and ESPN's John Buccigross has popularized the process with the Buggicross Overtime Challenge.
Another overtime tradition? Someone on a broadcast or a friend sitting next to you predicting the game will end very quickly – say, in the first five minutes – or go long, way long. The prevailing logic among some analysts is that teams have a burst of adrenaline to start the extra period before the rubber legs kick in, after which teams hang back, more or less waiting for the next intermission so they can refill their gas tanks and take their best shot again.
Is it just an expression? An unproven theory? I decided to find out by examining every playoff overtime game since the NHL introduced the format in 1927. A mere stick tap to hockey-reference.com for boasting all this raw data would be an understatement. Let's call it massively thankful Pekka-Rinne-powered stick smash.
ALL-TIME TRENDS SINCE 1927 (815 overtime games)
A grand total of 815 games have terrorized our heartrates, lifted us off our feet in elation and dropped us to our floors in anguish. Do they really end in five minutes or run long most of the time? In this case, I defined "long" as more than 20 minutes.
Games decided in 5:00 or less: 275, or 33.7%
Games decided at 20:01 or later: 166, or 20.4 %
Total games fitting "the theory": 441, or 54.1%
So the result more or less confirms that, technically, more overtime games have ended in the first five minutes or "gone late" than not. At the same time, 374 games have been decided between the 5:01 and 20:00 marks. More games have ended in that window than in the first five minutes, though former's time frame is triple the length, so that's no large surprise.
PAST 10 SEASONS (200 overtime games)
Games decided in 5:00 or less: 69, or 34.5%
Games decided at 20:01 or later: 42, or 21.0%
Total games fitting "the theory": 111, or 55.5%
Wow. Pretty remarkable to see the past 10 years mirror the previous eight decades of data almost perfectly. I thought the speed of today's game might have produced some quicker finishes, but the quality (and equipment) of goalies and defensive strategy today in general likely offset that .
THIS SEASON (17 overtime games)
Games decided in 5:00 or less: 6, or 35.2%
Games decided at 20:01 or later: 4, or 23.5%
Total games fitting "the theory": 10, or 58.8 %
A slight increase over the 90-year trend this year, but, still, the consistency with the overall pattern is staggering. While it's an exaggeration to claim every OT game ends really early or goes really late and nothing else, the all-time data supports the idea. It's fairly close to a 50/50 split, but even that's an impressive find considering how small that opening five-minute window of overtime is. Food for thought.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin