NHL Conference Finals
The National Hockey League (NHL) Conference Finals are the Eastern Conference and Western Conference championship series of the NHL. The Conference Finals are best-of-seven series, and comprise the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The two series are played in mid-to-late May (early June in 1995 and 2013, due to labour disputes that delayed the start of the season). The winners of the Eastern and Western Conference Finals receive the Prince of Wales Trophy and Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, respectively, and advance to face each other in the final round.
Before the 1967–68 season, the NHL was made up only of a single division. From the 1967–68 season through the 1973–74 season, the NHL was made up of two divisions (as opposed to conferences), the East Division and the West Division.
Following the 1973–74 season, the NHL again realigned. The East and West Divisions were renamed the Prince of Wales and Clarence Campbell Conferences, respectively. At the time, the new conferences and divisions had little to do with North American geography and geographical references were removed.
Beginning in the 1981–82 season, the conferences and the playoffs were realigned. The NHL was hoping to reduce travel costs in the face of a struggling economy and high energy prices. The regular season and playoffs were also altered to emphasize divisional match-ups.
Beginning in the 1993–94 season, the names of conferences and divisions were changed to reflect their geographic locations. At the instigation of then-new NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, the NHL made the change to help non-hockey fans better understand the game, as the National Basketball Association uses geographic-based names for their conferences and divisions, and the National Football League, and Major League Baseball use geographic-based names for their divisions. Therefore, the Campbell Conference became the Western Conference and the Wales Conference became the Eastern Conference. The respective winners of the Eastern and Western Conference Finals receive the Prince of Wales Trophy and Clarence S. Campbell Bowl.
The Hartford Whalers never advanced to a Conference Final, however after they relocated to become the Carolina Hurricanes, they did so three times (2002 as the eventual Cup Finalists, 2006 as the eventual Cup Champions, and 2009). The original Winnipeg Jets never appeared in a Conference Final, and after moving to become the Phoenix Coyotes the franchise did not even win a playoff series until the 2012 NHL playoffs when they advanced to the Conference Finals. Of the 31 teams in the NHL, only one has never appeared in a Conference Final, the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have not won a playoff series in four tries (2009, 2014, 2017, 2018).
Conference trophy traditions
Another tradition (or rather superstition) that is prevalent among today's NHL players is that no player should touch the Cup itself until his team has rightfully won the Cup. Adding to this superstition is some players' choice to neither touch nor hoist the conference trophies (Clarence S. Campbell Bowl and Prince of Wales Trophy) when these series have been won; the players feel that the Stanley Cup is the true championship trophy, and only it should be hoisted.
However, in 1994, Stephane Matteau, then of the New York Rangers, admitted that he tapped the Wales Trophy with his stick's blade before the overtime period in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Matteau subsequently scored the game-winning goal in double overtime against the New Jersey Devils. Following the game, Mark Messier, the captain of the Rangers, picked up and raised the Wales Trophy after it was awarded to the team. After winning the Western Conference, Vancouver Canucks captain Trevor Linden lifted the Campbell trophy. The Rangers prevailed over the Canucks in a seven-game series to win the Cup.
Scott Stevens and Martin Brodeur hoisted the conference trophy as well in 2000, after the New Jersey Devils came back from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games; the Devils would go on to defeat the Dallas Stars (who touched but did not lift their conference trophy) in the Stanley Cup Finals. Stevens then also touched the trophy in 2003, after defeating the Ottawa Senators in seven games. Not only touching, Stevens picked up the trophy and made his team take a photo with it. The Devils went on to defeat the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim four games to three in the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals.
In 2002 the Carolina Hurricanes hoisted the Prince of Wales Trophy after they won their conference title; the Hurricanes lost their Finals series with the Detroit Red Wings four games to one. Steve Yzerman, captain of the Detroit Red Wings during their 1997, 1998, and 2002 Stanley Cup victories, picked up the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl each time, to the delight of the home fans in Joe Louis Arena.
The superstition held true in 2004, as Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames grabbed the Campbell Bowl, but Dave Andreychuk of the Tampa Bay Lightning refused to touch the Prince of Wales Trophy; the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in seven games. In 2007, Daniel Alfredsson and Wade Redden of the Ottawa Senators touched and picked up the Prince of Wales Trophy, respectively, but Anaheim Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer never came close to the Campbell Bowl; the Ducks won the Stanley Cup in five games. Steve Yzerman, captain of the Detroit Red Wings during their 1997, 1998, and 2002 Stanley Cup victories, picked up the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl each time, though his successor Nicklas Lidstrom did not touch it en route to a 2008 Stanley Cup victory. Scott Stevens hoisted the Prince of Wales Trophy during the Devils' other two Stanley Cup-winning seasons in 1995 and 2003. In 2009, 2016, and 2017, Sidney Crosby and other members of the Pittsburgh Penguins carried and posed with the Prince of Wales Trophy before going on to win the Stanley Cup. At the close of the 2010 Eastern Conference final, Philadelphia Flyers captain Mike Richards picked up the Wales Trophy. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks captain, did not touch the Campbell Bowl, and the Blackhawks went on to defeat the Flyers in 6 games for the 2010 Stanley Cup.
In 2012, Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown and the rest of the team refused to touch the Campbell Bowl after winning the conference finals against Phoenix Coyotes. The team did not even take the Campbell Bowl Trophy on the plane back to Los Angeles. Instead Tim Leiweke, President and CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group (the parent of the LA Kings), drove the trophy in his car trunk from Phoenix to Los Angeles and showed it to the 10 000+ fans that waited at LAX Airport to show their support to their Stanley Cup finalists, who went on to win the Stanley Cup. This was in marked contrast to 1993, when the Kings had defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games to reach their first Final, where Wayne Gretzky and the team celebrated with the Campbell Bowl, and during the Finals trophy was unveiled before the start of Game Three (the Kings lost the series in five games, including three overtime losses).
In 2015, the Chicago Blackhawks took a team photo with the Campbell Bowl after winning Game 7 of the 2015 Western Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center in Anaheim. The Blackhawks would end up defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning four games to two in the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals. In 2018 The Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin grabbed and hoisted the Wales Conference trophy after the game, before ultimately defeating the Vegas Golden Knights in five games to win their Stanley Cup, leading to people to wonder if this jinx is even real since the last three Stanley Cup champions grabbed the conference trophy.
Prince of Wales Conference/Eastern Conference
Prince of Wales Conference (1982–1993)
Eastern Conference (1994–present)
Clarence Campbell Conference/Western Conference
Clarence Campbell Conference (1982–1993)
Western Conference (1994–present)
Legend: CF = Conference Final; SCF = Stanley Cup Final; Bolded year denotes win; Italicized denotes active series
Note: The Colorado Avalanche's totals include two Conference Finals appearances as the Quebec Nordiques (both losses), and the Dallas Stars' totals include two Conference Finals appearances as the Minnesota North Stars (one win; subsequent Stanley Cup Final loss). The Arizona Coyotes' only Conference Final appearance was in 2012 as the Phoenix Coyotes. The Columbus Blue Jackets remain the only active NHL team to have never advanced to the Conference Finals.
- "Stanley Cup Journals:13". Hockey Hall of Fame. July 7, 2003. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved July 25, 2006.
- Coffey, Phil (June 2, 2006). "Ice Age: Having another trophy in mind". Retrieved July 25, 2006.
- "Stephane Matteau". Retrieved July 5, 2007.
- Cerny, Jim (May 27, 2009). "Stanley Cup Playoffs Flashback: May 27, 1994". New York Rangers. Retrieved April 13, 2010.
- "The Canucks Are Going To the Finals – History Will Be MADE". Head To The Net. Archived from the original on August 17, 2011. Retrieved July 21, 2011.
- Kevin Goff. "2011 NHL Playoffs: The Myth of the Cursed Stanley Cup Conference Final Trophies". Bleacher Report. Retrieved October 25, 2014.
- "Blog with picture of Hurricanes lifting the Prince of Wales Cup".
- Goff, Kevin (May 18, 2011). "Debunking the Conference Final Trophy Curse". Bleacher Report. Retrieved October 24, 2014.