Entering last Wednesday’s game against the Wild, the Blackhawks were hyping it as their most important one of the season.

With 3 minutes, 3 seconds remaining, a goal by the Wild’s Erik Haula tied it at 3.

You might think the Blackhawks would go all out for those last three minutes to try to get two points while denying the division-leading Wild of any. But they didn’t and neither did the Wild, both content to get a point and play for overtime.

Neither team took many chances, choosing to play tight defensively. They combined for just two shots on goal in the last three minutes. The Hawks won in overtime.

The end of that game reflected a trend in the NHL since the 1999-2000 season, when the league began awarding the “loser point.” Teams will play for the tie and a guaranteed point, and decide the winner in overtime instead of going for two points in regulation and risk getting nothing.

“If you’re in that situation with a tight game, you want to make sure you’re getting a point,” winger Patrick Kane said. “We’ve been doing that for the last couple years. You get to overtime trying to get the other point.”

But it’s not just the Hawks.

Most coaches and players around the league will offer the party line: that everyone is trying to win at every moment of a game. But some will straight up admit the desire to get at least one point affects how teams play in the third period of a tie game.

What’s striking in their comments is just how much a part of hockey playing for overtime has become – and the numbers support the idea.

“Teams are playing for a tie even from the start of the game,” Devils winger Taylor Hall said. “If you get a point, it’s not a bad night.

“If you get a point, you’re not going to get bag skated the next day. Your coach is going to be pretty happy no matter what.”

According to STATS, 23.6 percent of games since the 2005-06 season have gone to overtime, but in the last few seasons games are going beyond regulation at an even higher rate. The seasons with the most overtime games are 2013-14 (25 percent), 2014-15 (24.9) and this season (24.8 through Feb. 10).

Before the introduction of the loser point, the chances that a game would go into overtime were typically less than 20 percent, according to research done by the data-driven website fivethirtyeight.com.

Fivethirtyeight.com also reported in 2015 that goal expectancy takes a sharp decline in the final minutes of a tie game.

The change to three-on-three overtime from four-on-four has had little impact on the number of overtime games. Multiple players and coaches said teams played more conservatively late in games to ensure a point even before the introduction of three-on-three.

“One-hundred percent it happens, and I think it was the same with four-on-four,” Sharks Coach Peter DeBoer said. “You work that hard and points are so valuable in this league (that if) you get anywhere inside the last 10 minutes of the third period, I think any coach in the league is starting to think about, ‘Hey let’s make sure we at least get a point.’ ”

Some in the league, such as Lightning Coach John Cooper, believe there’s even more incentive to send the game to overtime when teams from opposite conferences face each other because neither team loses any ground in the playoff race if the other gets a point.

“Do I sense both teams are playing for the point (if it’s tied late)? Yes, I do, 100 percent,” Cooper said. “It’s chip it in, chip it out. There’s probably not a lot of taking chances to score (because) both teams want that point. They’ll (take) their chances in overtime.”

Said Hawks Coach Joel Quenneville: “We play the way we normally play – defensive mindset first. We don’t change the mindset based on geography.”

The loser point helps create parity around the league because teams are never too far ahead or behind in the standings. One idea that could increase competitiveness would be to award three points for a regulation win.

“I’ve heard that proposed in the past, (but) it never seems to go anywhere,” Hawks General Manager Stan Bowman said. “I think it would give teams hope that you could get hot. There would be more separation (in the standings), but there also would be hope.

“Right now it’s just so hard to make up ground on anybody. You can win five in a row and really not move up because other teams are getting points when they’re losing.”

Commissioner Gary Bettman told the Tribune recently that the league isn’t looking to change point allocation. It is fine with parity and content with about a quarter of its games going to three-on-three overtime, thinking that is what fans want to see.

“If you’re up by a goal and there’s 10 minutes to go, you’re going to do everything you can to shut it down, so that’s one of the benefits of the system we have now,” Bettman said. “It keeps the game open and (makes) anything possible. The three-on-three is working well.”

That means the league thinks teams playing conservatively in the final minutes of regulation is working well, too. Kane said the decisions players make can change based on the score and the clock.

“Maybe you don’t make the one-on-one move or go up and try a cross-ice pass that could be intercepted,” Kane said. “I think you have an understanding of the scoreboard and what the clock says.”

And when the score is tied, that means trying to keep it that way until the clock hits zero.


BLUE JACKETS 5, MAPLE LEAFS 2: Nick Foligno and Boone Jenner each scored a goal, backup goalie Joonas Korpisalo made 31 saves and Columbus beat visiting Toronto.

BLUES 2, RED WINGS 0: Carter Hutton made 25 saves for his second straight shutout, Ivan Barbashev scored 2:06 into the game and Jaden Schwartz had an empty-net goal in the final seconds, helping St. Louis win at Detroit.

The Blues have won a season-high five straight games, and Coach Mike Yeo has won 6 of 7 since replacing the fired Ken Hitchcock.

Detroit has dropped five straight games for the second time in less than a month, matching its season-long losing streak. Detroit also lost five straight following a 6-2 start to what’s become a difficult season.

The Red Wings played their first home game since team owner Mike Ilitch died Friday.


DUCKS: Center Antoine Vermette is facing the likely prospect of a 10-game suspension from the NHL for slashing a linesman.

Vermette slapped his stick against the back of linesman Shandor Alphonso’s legs after losing a faceoff to Minnesota Wild captain Mikko Koivu during the third period of the Ducks’ 1-0 win Tuesday night.

RED WINGS: Foward Gustav Nyquist, a former UMaine player, was suspended for six games without pay by the NHL for high-sticking Minnesota Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon in the face in Sunday’s game.

CAPITALS: Washington acquired defenseman Tom Gilbert from Los Angeles for a conditional draft pick.

KINGS: Los Angeles recalled top forward prospect Adrian Kempe and defenseman Paul LaDue from their AHL affiliate in Ontario.