In November, world leaked out that Mario Lemieux had been secretly working out to get into shape for a comeback after more than three years in retirement. Lemieux returned to action on Dec. 27 and demonstrated that he hadn't lost much, if anything. He had a goal and two assists in that game and he racked up a total of 76 points on 35 goals and 41 assists in 46 games.
His teammate, Jaromir Jagr, again led the NHL in scoring with 121 points to win the Ross Trophy for the fourth year in a row and the fifth time in seven years. (Lemieux won it the other two years in that stretch.) Nevertheless, the Penguins could finish only third in Atlantic Division, behind the defending Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Colorado Avalanche had the league's best regular season record with 118 points to lead the Northwest Division. Colorado's Joe Sakic, who finished second in scoring, won the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player.
Next best to the Avalanche, with 111 points apiece, were the Devils and the Detroit Red Wings, who finished first in the Eastern Division. Ottawa led the Northeast Division with 109 points and Dallas had 106 to lead the Pacific Division. The St. Louis Blues had 103 points, but finished second to Detroit, and the Philadelphia Flyers had an even 100 points. The only first-place team with less than 100 points was Washington, which won the Southeast Division with 96 points.
The Stanley Cup playoffs went almost according to form, the major exception being the Los Angeles Kings' upset of Detroit in the first round. The Red Wings won the first two games of the series, but LA came back to win the next four in a row, including two overtime victories. The Kings then gave Colorado a tough battle in the Western Conference semifinals, but the Avalanche pulled it out in seven games. Meanwhile, St. Louis swept Dallas to get into the conference finals, where Colorado won in five games, the last three of which went into overtime.
Both Eastern Conference semifinal series went the full seven games. New Jersey and Pittsburgh both pulled through after being down 3-2. The Devils then eliminated the Penguins in five games to advance to the Stanley Cup championship series for the second year in a row.
The Avalanche looked dominant in the first game of the final, an easy 5-0 win, but New Jersey came back to steal the second game in Colorado, 2-1. After the teams also split two games in New Jersey, the Devils won Game 5 on the road to take a 3-2 lead. But Colorado won the next two to win the Stanley Cup.
The feel-good story of the playoffs was Colorado defenseman Ray Bourque. In the final game of his 22-year career, the future Hall of Fame defenseman played for his first and only championship team.
Colorado goalie Patrick Roy, who had a 1.70 goals-against average and four shutouts, including two in the final series, won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP.