The San Jose Sharks became the NHL's first expansion team since 1979. They were placed in the Smythe Division of the Campbell Conference. The season was interrupted by a players' strike for the first 10 days of April, pushing the start of the playoffs back to April 18, the latest in history.
The New York Rangers were the league's top regular-season team for the first time since 1942, accumulating a team-record 50 wins and 105 points. The big reason was Hart Trophy winner Mark Messier, acquired from the Edmonton Oilers. Messier was only the second player, after Wayne Gretzky, to win the trophy with two different teams.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins had a tumultuous year. New owners took over the team on Nov. 19 and just a week later Coach Bob Johnson died of a brain tumor. Scotty Bowman, who had been serving as interim coach since Johnson's diagnosis, became the regular head coach. Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux led the league in scoring and his teammate, Kevin Stevens, was second. Nevertheless, the Penguins finished only third in the Patrick Division, behind the Rangers and the Washington Capitals.
Six of the eight first-round series went the full seven games and the Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh, and the Vancouver Canucks all came back from 3-1 deficits to advance to the second round.
All four first-place teams lost their division finals. The Penguins swept the Boston Bruins in the Wales Conference championship series, while the Chicago Blackhawks swept Edmonton to win in the Campbell Conference. That gave the Blackhawks 11 straight playoff victories entering the finals.
It seemd as if the streak would continue when Chicago took a 3-0 lead in Game 1, but the Penguins came back to claim a last-minute 5-4 victory. They went on to sweep the series and win the Stanley Cup for the second year in a row. Mario Lemieux again won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs. He had 34 points, including five game-winning goals, in the post-season.