For the third year in a row, the NHL expanded, adding the Florida Panthers (based in Miami) and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. The Minnesota North Stars became the Dallas Stars and the conference and division names became geographical. The Prince of Wales Conference was renamed the Eastern Conference, while the Campbell Conference was renamed the Western Conference. The Adams, Patrick, Norris, and Smythe Divisions became the Northeast, Atlantic, Central and Pacific Divisions, respectively.
The playoff format was also changed. Rather than being division-based, the draw became conference-based. The top eight teams from each conference entered the playoffs, with the first-place division seeded first and second and the other six teams seeded by their points totals.
Scoring dropped considerably. One reason was the loss of the league's two top scorers from the previous season, Mario Lemieux and Pat LaFontaine, for long periods. Lemieux played in just 22 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins while LaFontaine was in uniform for only 15 games because of a knee injury. Teemu Selanne of the Winnipeg Jets, who had tied for the league lead with 76 goals in 1992-93, missed more than 30 games, and Philadelphia's Eric Lindros missed 19.
But Wayne Gretzky was healthy. He led the league in scoring for the 10th time and in the process scored his 802nd career goal to take over all-time leadership from Gordie Howe, whose career points total he had already surpassed. Sergei Fedorov of the Detroit Red Wings finished second in scoring. He won the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP and was also awarded the Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward; no one else has ever won both of those awards in the same season.
The New York Rangers had the top regular-season record with 112 points and the New Jersey Devils, also in the Atlantic Division, were next with 106, while the Penguins, even without Lemieux for most of the season, led the Northeast Division with 101 points. The Detroit Red Wings were tops in the Western Conference with 100 points, just 2 ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs and 3 ahead of the Dallas Stars in the Central Division. Calgary led the Pacific Division with 97 points.
The Rangers eliminated the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals and came up against the New Jersey Devils in the conference finals. It was a sensational series, with the Rangers finally pulling out the seventh game on an overtime goal by Stephane Marteau.
The Vancouver Canucks, who'd finished second to Calgary in the Pacific, represented the Western Conference. They had beaten Calgary in a seven-game first-round series and then eliminated Dallas and Toronto in five games each to get to the Stanley Cup finals.
New York jumped out to a 3-1 lead but couldn't close it out in Game 5 at home. The Canucks evened the series in Vancouver, bringing up a deciding game in Madison Square Garden. There, the Rangers pulled out a 3-2 win, with captain Mark Messier scoring the game- and series- winning goal. Defenseman Brian Leetch, who led all playoff scorers, won the Conn Smythe Trophy.