Stanley Cup Playoff overtimes: Historically, when are goals most likely to be scored?

Greg Wyshynski

The Los Angeles Kings did some unpredictable things, statistically speaking, en route to making the Stanley Cup Final: Like going 8-0 on the road, nearly having as many shorthanded goals (5) as power-play goals (6) and beating the top three seeds in the conference.

Dustin Penner's Western Conference Final-winning goal was no exception. Pancakes scored at 17:42 of the first and only overtime, and according to the history of Stanley Cup Playoff overtime, that's an exception to the expected.

Chris Winchester, a Detroit Red Wings for 35 years and a PD reader, put together a spreadsheet that looked at when goals were scored in playoff overtimes going back to expansion in 1968. From Winchester:

I always had the feeling that most overtimes ended in the first 5 minutes or so of overtime.  After compiling the data for every playoff overtime game it turns out that over 40 percent of overtime games ended in the first five minutes of the extra period. I did not calculate the fact that the game may have ended in the 2nd or 3rd overtime, just the time the goal was scored during the extra period.

In other words, the following chart doesn't account for in which overtime the goal was scored, but rather when in that overtime it was scored.

Via Winchester, the numbers; click here for the much larger, clearer image.

Again, take a gander at the full chart here. A few thoughts on this chart …

• This was the first overtime game of the conference final round, and the first overtime game of the 2012 playoffs since the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers went long on May 7.

• The Penner goal was only the second of the postseason to occur in the final five minutes of an overtime period; the other was Alexei Ponikarovsky's goal at 17:21 of the first OT in the New Jersey Devils' Game 3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

• As you can see, Winchester has determined that the NHL has a new benchmark for games ending in the first five minutes of an overtime period with 14.

• There have only been three seasons since 1968 in which more overtime games ended in the second 10 minutes of an extra session than in the first 10.

• Finally, while the number of overtime games has been high for the last two postseasons, they're not necessarily a product of the "charity point/shootout" regular season OT model adopted after the lockout. Rather, they're symptomatic of the NHL's turn toward defensive systems — from 1995 to 2012, the playoffs have averaged 18.29 overtime games per postseason. Wonder if the turn from divisional play to a conference seeding format played into it as well.

(Ed. Note: Thanks to Brad Forster for this reminder: The division semifinals was a best-of-five affair until the 1986—87 season, when it became a best-of-seven series.)

Thanks to Chris for the research. We now feel a little more comfortable getting up and grabbing a beer in the last five minutes of an oh crap Penner just scored …