How Many Quarters In Hockey Playoffs? [Facts!]

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Going into the 2012 NHL playoffs, few could have predicted the incredible surge of interest in the sport that would blossom into a full-fledged winter sport in the Southern Hemisphere. From a small base, hockey became one of the world’s most popular sports, and Winter Olympics were deemed “Hockey Night” from its inception.

The popularity of the game was driven by a confluence of factors – the skill and strategy of the sport, its inclusion in the Olympics, and, most notably, the introduction of video review in overtime.

The introduction of instant replay in overtime was a stroke of genius by the NHL, providing a new level of engagement for fans and creating dramatic tension in the game’s most crucial moments. In the 2010s alone, the NHL’s average game went into extra periods, with the average time on ice reaching almost 30 minutes – up from 23:40 in the 2000s and 19:16 in the 1990s.

With the NHL shifting to a seven-game series in the best-of-seven format, fans are now afforded the opportunity to follow every game of the postseason, regardless of location. Previously, fans would have to make a trip to a faraway city to see their favorite team in action, creating a barrier to entry that the internet and cable TV have largely removed. Now, with the majority of games being shown live, fans can engage with their teams anywhere, any time, creating a greater connection to the game.

The Growth Of The Sport

Hockey is now firmly established in the US as an annual winter sport, with the nation’s largest cities having professional leagues, collegiate programs, and regional amateur organizations. The 2012 NHL playoffs alone boasted a worldwide audience of over 600 million, making it the most-watched sporting event in history.

The game grew rapidly in the 20th century in the United States, but the roots of modern-day hockey can be traced back to Montreal, Canada, where the sport was first organized in 1874. In the US, the game was initially played by immigrant workers from Canada, with the first officially sanctioned game taking place in St. Louis in 1888. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the sport reached its pinnacle, with the New York Hockey Club alone boasting a players’ roster that included a 22-year-old Alex Delvecchio and a 24-year-old Edward Thompkins – two of the greatest football players of all time. The two squared off in a game that was dubbed the “International Football Classic”, with Delvecchio emerging the victor by a score of 3–2.

Delvecchio went on to win three more titles with the team, including the first Winter Olympics in 1920, while Thompkins became the first African-American to play in the NHL in 1927. At the time, Thompkins was also the league’s biggest star, a status that continues today. The number of black NHL players doubled from one to two between 1920 and 1960, with the league’s first black owner, James Norris, also owning and operating a minor league team at the time.

The US entered the Winter Olympics as an independent nation for the first time in 1924, with the country subsequently joining the International Ice Hockey Federation in 1926. The following year, the National Hockey League became the first major professional sports league to enter the ice hockey world stage, with the NHL All-Star Game becoming an annual event.

The game continued to grow rapidly in the United States in the following years, reaching a peak in popularity in the 1940s and cementing its place in American culture. Since the 2014–15 season, the NHL has experienced the largest increase in average game attendance of any sports league in North America.

The Evolution Of The Game

Over the past century, the game of hockey has changed significantly, with the equipment and rules evolving to keep pace with the times. In 1917, for example, ice hockey was played on solid ground rather than on ice. The object was to direct the ball into the opponent’s goal, with only slight contact allowed.

In the 1940s, the introduction of metal sticks gave the sport a tremendous boost, allowing for greater speed and hard shots on the goal. In 1941, the NHL adopted the “body-checking” rule, punishing players who body-checked an opponent who was not in a dangerous area of the ice (e.g., a puck-handler or the puck itself), resulting in more aggressive play and more injuries. Since then, the body-checking rule has been modified over 40 times, with current NHL commissioner Gary Bettman predicting that the next big change might come in 2021.

Other rule changes that have positively affected the game include several relating to icing, introduced in 1943. Previously, once a team had the puck in its own zone, the opponent was allowed to fight for possession. Icing enabled teams to maintain control of the puck even if there was no clear shot at the opposing team’s goal, preventing counterattacks following unsuccessful icing plays.

One of the more significant rule changes came in overtime, with the introduction of a 3-on-3, sudden-death format in the 1999–2000 season. This change increased the game’s intrigue factor and increased the number of exciting finishes, with the new format resulting in a 41% increase in high-scoring OTs between 2000 and 2008.

The Rise Of Video Refereeing

Technology has played a crucial role in advancing the game of hockey, with the advent of video replay enabling instant feedback and greater analysis of plays. From the very beginning, the NHL recognized the value of video review in ensuring the correct call is made and, more importantly, in providing instant replay for those questionable decisions that can be reviewed by an independent third party.

The earliest instances of video review in the NHL were employed during the 1970s, with the referees initially checking the play on the ice before initiating a review. In addition, since the 1970s, officials have been empowered to stop the game and review plays that took place outside of the opponent’s home arena, a change that was implemented in order to provide greater consistency in officiating across multiple cities. The rule was officially implemented in the 1974–75 season and, since then, has enabled fans to become more familiar with plays that they might have missed in person.

Broadcasts And Live Streaming

The emergence of TV, particularly cable TV, as the dominant form of mass media in the United States meant that hockey became accessible to a wider audience. The combined effect of cable TV and the internet means that fans can now access play-by-play accounts of virtually every NHL game, either live or on demand via streaming video. The rise of social media has also provided fans with a platform to remain in touch with teams they love and to exchange opinions on current events.

The popularity of the sport is such that the annual NHL All-Star Game is now broadcast on national TV in more than 120 countries, with international audiences making up 20% of the total audience.

The Future Of The Game

With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics inching closer, the upcoming Winter Olympics present an opportunity to further increase the international profile of hockey and, potentially, raise its profile even more in the United States. Tokyo will host the Games for the first time, with the country previously hosting the 1896 Summer Olympics. If the NHL is to maintain its status as the world’s #1 sporting league, it will need to continue to evolve and adapt to the times – especially now, as it prepares to enter the next phase of its existence.

The popularity of the game in the US is such that it could easily sustain itself as a year-round sport. In addition, the new NHL commissioner, Pierre Lacroix, recently stated that the league is seeking to find a way to stage a World Championship tournament in the United States.

However, the rise of the sports entertainment industry in the form of the XFL and the WWE has provided counterbalance, creating rival leagues that have challenged the NHL’s position as the top dog in North America. The combined effect of these two sports leagues – and, more recently, the NFL – has meant that hockey has not been entirely unaffected by the proliferation of sports entertainment, with the number of Americans choosing to follow football rather than hockey doubled from 4 million to 8 million between 2005 and 2014.

Lacroix has also acknowledged the threat posed by non-NHL organizations, particularly the NFL, although the commissioner has also stated his desire to work with them, as opposed to having a rival league.

The combined effect of all these changes means that the game of hockey is evolving right before our eyes. With the speed and complexity of the sport increasing year after year, fans are likely to be treated to an exciting future of the game.

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