The spectacular play of Dominik Hasek of the Buffalo Sabres ushered in a new era of goaltending dominance in the NHL. Only three teams reached the 300-goal plateau, and only one team, the Detroit Red Wings, averaged more than four goals scored per game. Goaltenders combined for 99 shutouts during the regular season, a mark that broke the all-time regular-season record of 85 set in 1974-75.
For this season, the names of the conferences were changed from Campbell and Wales to Western and Eastern respectively, and the divisions' names were changed from Adams, Patrick, Norris, and Smythe to Northeast, Atlantic, Central, and Pacific respectively. Each division had changes. The Northeast Division would welcome the Pittsburgh Penguins, previously from the Patrick Division. The Atlantic Division would welcome the newcomer Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning, previously from the Norris Division. The Central Division would welcome the Winnipeg Jets, previously from the Smythe Division. The Pacific Division would welcome the newcomer Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. New league commissioner Gary Bettman, who had previously worked in the National Basketball Association (NBA), thought the old names could be confusing to non-traditional fans and believed that a change to geographically-named divisions, as used in the NBA and most other North American professional sports, would be more easily understandable to new fans.
In addition, the playoff format was slightly altered to resemble that of the NBA. Whereas the playoffs had previously been bracketed and seeded by division, they were now broken down only by conference: the division winners were seeded one-two by order of point finish, then the top six remaining teams in the conference were seeded three through eight. However, unlike the NBA, the NHL matches the highest-seeded winners against the lowest-seeded winners in the second round. In order to reduce the number of long trips to and from the West Coast, whenever a Central Division team played a Pacific Division team in the playoffs, the format was 2–3–2 rather than the traditional 2–2–1–1–1, a format that lasted only for the 1993–94 season.
Note: z = won Presidents' Trophy.
No = Division rank, CR = Conference rank, W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, GF = Goals For, GA = Goals Against, Pts = Points
Teams that qualified for the playoffs are highlighted in bold.
The Final pitted the New York Rangers, seeking to win their first Cup since 1940, versus the Vancouver Canucks, looking for their first-ever Cup win. The series was hard-fought and went the full seven games. The Rangers took a 3–1 series lead, but the Canucks won the next two to force a game seven in New York. The Rangers won the game 3–2 to win their fourth Stanley Cup.
There were a series of neutral-site games in this season which created a few interesting scenarios:
The Stars played a neutral-site game in their previous market of Minnesota, where they were greeted enthusiastically.
The Minnesota North Stars' tradition of playing on New Year's Eve and holding a post-game skate on the ice was continued. However, the North Stars having moved to Dallas, organizers had to attempt to emulate it by scheduling the Flyers and Bruins. Also, the game was played at the Target Center in Minneapolis rather than the Met Center in Bloomington.
The Lightning vs. Red Wings contest at Minneapolis was scheduled for Martin Luther King Day, a Monday, necessitating an afternoon face-off at 2:05 PM. Due to an error on the NHL's part, however, the Lightning believed themselves to be playing at 7:35 PM, an error that was only discovered two weeks prior to the game by reporters. The Lightning ended up playing an 8:05 PM game in Winnipeg, flying back to the U.S., and playing again just 18 hours later in Minneapolis.
The Devils and Rangers, whose arenas were located twelve miles apart, played over 1,000 miles away and in a different country (at Halifax, Nova Scotia).
Similarly, the Canadiens and Nordiques, both hailing from the province of Quebec, played each other 2,500 miles from home (in Phoenix, AZ), travelling not only to another country but also from a French- to an English-speaking city.
The Panthers, in the midst of a playoff race, played a March "home" game against the Maple Leafs 30 miles from Toronto, at Hamilton.
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