The Length of NHL Games | LeoVegas

How Long Are NHL Games

The length of NHL games is a crucial aspect of the sport’s appeal and structure and it is determined by several factors. The standard time is 60 minutes, but when you take intermissions and other time additions into consideration, you’re more likely to get a game that goes on for over two hours.

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We’ll take a look at the components that affect the length of an NHL game, exploring the reasons why stoppages happen and how these can affect the game. So you can have an even better understanding of just how long these games might last.

Structure of an NHL Game

Regulation Time

Regulation time in the NHL is split into three distinct periods, each lasting 20 minutes to make up 60 minutes of regulation play.

First Period

The first period sets the tone for the rest of the game, with both teams emerging with energy, ready to test their strategies and skills. They begin the game at centre ice and both teams aim to get early momentum and put their tactics to good use while running on high energy. It’s also the period where teams feel out the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, trying to find the best approach forward while maintaining their defensive positions to avoid any early setbacks.

Second Period

The second period is when the game’s rhythm settles in, with teams adjusting their strategies based on the outcome of the first period. Players are also more familiar with their opponents and can anticipate ways to use defensive and offensive techniques to their advantage. The long change has the teams switching sides during this period and that adds challenge, since the benches are now farther away from the defensive zone. This can affect morale and can lead to more scoring opportunities and changes in strategy. As time presses on, endurance and stamina become all the more important and both sides need to keep up their intensity to control the game’s momentum.

Third and Final Period

The third and final period is the most intense of the lot, especially when the score is close. This is when teams start taking more risks to secure a win, leading to lots of high-pressure situations and dramatic set pieces. Time becomes a serious concern if the game is tied and teams push for that decisive goal that can finally tip the scales in their favour. The third period tends to be the most aggressive, as both sides desperately try to avoid heading into overtime.

During all three of these 20-minute periods, the game is peppered with all kinds of stoppages related to icing, offsides, penalties and goals. The structure of these periods is also set up to add more dynamism to the games, allowing for more thrilling and unpredictable changes to come about.


Between each period, you get an intermission and both of these periods are crucial to the structure and flow of the game. Each intermission lasts for 18 minutes giving the players and the fans a chance to break away from the action of the game.

The main purpose of intermissions is of course to give the players some much-needed time to rest and recover. Hockey is a pretty intense sport with lots of physical demands and continuous high-speed action that can very quickly deplete a player’s energy levels. During these intermissions, players have some time to rehydrate, get the medical attention they might need, and recover from the physical exertion of the previous period. This is incredibly important in reducing the risk of player injury and making sure that the squad is ready to perform again for the next period.

But it's not all about rest. During these intermissions, coaches and their teams make necessary strategic adjustments for the following period. It’s the time for coaches to analyze the game’s progress, review video footage, and discuss new tactics with the players. This is when they can address any issues they noticed during the previous period and make the necessary changes to the lineups and strategies to motivate the team into the next period.

From a more technical side, an intermission is also an ideal opportunity for the ice to be resurfaced. The playing surface is cleaned and smoothed out, making sure the players get optimal ice conditions. It’s incredibly important for the player’s safety and the overall quality of the game, allowing for smooth skating and precise puck handling.

If you’re a fan, the intermissions are the perfect time to take a break, grab a snack, and discuss the flow of the game with other fans and audience members.

Factors Influencing Game Duration

Despite the 60 minutes of regulation play that NHL games are meant to have, they can easily run over two or even three hours. This is influenced by various factors that vary from one game to another.

Gameplay Stoppages

Game stoppages are the main reason for time running over in NHL games. These can interrupt the game for various reasons which stops the game right in its tracks.

  • Icing – This happens when a player shoots the puck across the centre red line and the opposing goal line without it being touched, resulting in a face-off in the attacking team’s defensive zone. The stoppage here lets the teams reset but also adds to the game's overall duration.

  • Offside - An offside violation happens when an attacking player enters the offensive zone before the puck. This results in a stoppage and a face-off outside the offensive zone.

  • Puck Out of Play - When the puck leaves the playing surface, play is stopped, and a face-off is conducted on the spot. This is perhaps one of the most frequent stoppages in the game.

Penalties and Power Plays

Penalties and power plays also significantly affect a game’s duration. Penalties lead to power plays, so you always end up getting one with the other.

  • Minor Penalties - These two-minute penalties are given for issues such as tripping, hooking, and slashing.
  • Major Penalties - These are five-minute penalties for more severe issues, like fighting or boarding.
  • Misconduct Penalties - These do not lead to a power play but the involved player is sidelined for ten minutes, disrupting team lines and strategies.

Video Reviews and Challenges

Video reviews and coach challenges are becoming all the more common in the NHL. These reviews can be initiated for goals, offside calls leading to goals, and goalie interference.

  • Goal Reviews – Checking if a goal was legally scored involves reviewing the puck’s trajectory, whether it crossed the line, and if any issues occurred during the lead-up to the goal.
  • Coach’s Challenges - Coaches can challenge certain calls, leading to video reviews that can take several minutes to resolve. Successful challenges will undo the disputed call, but unsuccessful ones end in a minor penalty.

Pre-Game and Post-Game Activities

Pre-game activities can extend the game time too, including warm-ups and the singing of the national anthem before the game. You also get player introductions in special games, where the initial ceremonies can increase the overall time.

The game’s post-activities largely depend on how the game itself plays out. If you get overtime or a shootout, then the game goes on for quite a while longer. You may also get post-game interviews and celebrations that increase the game time by quite a bit.

Overtime and Shootouts

Regular Season Overtime

In the NHL regular season, if a game is tied after regulation, it goes into a five-minute overtime period played in a three-on-three format. If no team scores during this period, the game is decided by a shootout​.

In playoffs overtime periods are 20 minutes with five-on-five play continuing until a goal is scored and follow a sudden death format. This can be quite an intense format and has led to some of the longest games in NHL history, including the 1936 Detroit Red Wings vs Montreal Maroons game, which went on for six overtimes with almost 117 minutes of extra play.

As you can imagine, playoff overtime requires lots of endurance and strategy and has created some of the most memorable games in NHL history.


If overtime ends without a winner in a regular NHL game, a shootout will then decide the outcome. Each team picks three players to take alternating penalty shots. If the game remains tied after these initial shots, the shootout switches to sudden death until one team scores and the other doesn’t. They’re a far more time-conserving option than overtime, lasting for around five to ten minutes. They can also be incredibly exciting, with each shot potentially deciding the game’s outcome.


How long is the NHL game?

An NHL game lasts for 60 minutes, but when you take into consideration additional time, it can go over two to three hours.

How many minutes is a full-length hockey game?

A full-length hockey game lasts for 60 minutes, with three 20-minute periods and two 18-minute intermissions.

How many minutes is an NHL period?

An NHL period is 20 minutes long.

How long is NHL intermission before overtime?

An NHL intermission before overtime is 15 minutes and 30 seconds long.

How long are NHL All-Star games?

The NHL All-Star Game is actually three separate games, each a three-on-three format with 10-minute halves. If a game is tied after 20 minutes of play, it goes directly into a three-round shootout, with additional rounds as needed.