The puck drops here. Not this week, but maybe next.

Their backs to the wall and their season on the brink of extinction, the NHL and its players' union put aside the posturing and reached a tentative agreement early yesterday bringing an end to the 113-day lockout.

A truncated regular season of 48 or 50 games — the exact number is still to be determined — could begin no later than Jan. 19 once the new collective bargaining agreement is ratified by a majority of each side.

Commissioner Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr, the union's executive director, announced the truce at a press briefing inside a Midtown hotel shortly before dawn yesterday after a 16-hour, all-night negotiating session.

"We've got to dot a lot of I's and cross a lot of T's," Bettman said. "There's still a lot of work to be done, but the basic details of the agreement have been agreed upon.''

The NHL Board of Governors is scheduled to meet tomorrow in Manhattan, where its members are expected to vote on the new CBA. The approximately 740 members of the players' association will have a 48-hour window in which to vote on the agreement. That means the league — all but shuttered since Sept. 16 when the players were locked out — could be up and running full throttle again by Wednesday or Thursday.

While nothing has been finalized, the original estimate was regular-season games could begin as soon as eight days after an accord was reached. The league has schedules prepared for both 48- and 50-game seasons and it is expected all games will be played within the teams' respective conferences.

"Hopefully, within a very few days, the fans can get back to watching people who are skating, not the two of us," Fehr said, referring to himself and Bettman.

"It was a battle," said Winnipeg defenseman Ron Hainsey, a member of the union's bargaining team. "Gary said a month ago it was a tough negotiation. That's what it was. … You want to be playing. You want to be done with this."

The agreement is for 10 years, with a mutual opt-out clause after eight. It includes a seven-year limit on player-contract length — eight for players to re-sign with their own team — and a 35 percent year-to-year variance aimed at preventing back-loaded contracts.

The salary cap for this season will be $70.2 million while the 2013-14 salary cap, a bone of contention late in the talks, will reportedly be set at $64.3 million with a floor of $44 million. The league had wanted next season's cap to be set at $60 million.

The players' share of hockey-related income, which was a record $3.3 billion last season, will drop from 57 percent to a 50-50 split with ownership. The NHL had originally wanted to cut the players' share to 46 percent.