DALLAS -- The Clarence S. Campbell Bowl was placed on a black tablecloth adorned with NHL logos, glistening under the arena lights. It was presented to the Vegas Golden Knights, who eliminated the Dallas Stars in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals Monday night to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
As the Vegas captains surrounded the table, the hockey world wondered: Would they touch the trophy or succumb to NHL superstition by leaving it alone?
They did not touch it. Even though the Florida Panthers, whom the Knights will face in the Stanley Cup Final, did touch the Prince of Wales Trophy, which is awarded to the Eastern Conference winner.
"The one that we want to touch is four wins away," said Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault.
The two trophies have been handed out to teams in some fashion since 1967. In 1993-94, the NHL began giving out the Campbell Bowl to the Western Conference playoff champion and the Wales Trophy to the Eastern Conference playoff champion.
In 1997, the Philadelphia Flyers won the Eastern Conference title. Their captain, Eric Lindros, refused to touch the Wales Trophy, a move credited with starting a peculiar tradition in the NHL in which teams that win a championship refuse to properly acknowledge the trophy they earned.
There are two primary motivations for that behavior. The first one is symbolic. As Marchessault inferred, teams believe they haven't won anything until they hoist the Stanley Cup, so why celebrate something less significant than hockey's Holy Grail?
The other one is pure sports superstition: The belief that touching the conference trophy can somehow impact a team's ability to win the Stanley Cup.
Marchessault could be heard on the ice after Game 6 encouraging his teammates not to touch the Campbell Bowl. He was there in 2018 when Vegas captain Deryk Engelland touched the trophy and the team lost in the Stanley Cup Final to the Washington Capitals. He wasn't going to allow his teammates to touch it this time.
"It's just one of those things where it didn't work out for us the first year, right?" said Marchessault. "So we're back here and we want to do things different."
Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy was more curious than concerned about his team touching the hardware.
"I'm not a superstitious guy at all, so I was game for whatever they decided," said Cassidy, whose Boston Bruins team did not touch the Wales Trophy in 2019. "It's their moment. If they wanted to pass it around, great. If not, that's fine by me too."
The Panthers haven't been to the Stanley Cup Final since 1996, or one year before star forward Matthew Tkachuk was born. He said the team had no compunction about touching their trophy.
"The last thing that we're going to do is be superstitious about not touching it. Like, nobody said we were even going to make the playoffs. I think it's pretty cool to touch it, carry it around and take a picture with it. We earned that thing," he said after the Panthers swept the Carolina Hurricanes.
Does it matter?
According to ESPN Stats & Information, 17 teams have touched their conference championship trophy since 2001. Of those 17 teams, 10 have gone on to win the Stanley Cup.
From 2011 through 2015, no teams touched the conference trophies. But the Pittsburgh Penguins touched the Wales Trophy in 2016 and 2017, winning the Stanley Cup in both seasons -- just like they did in 2009, when they touched the Wales Trophy and won the Cup. In 2008, they didn't touch it and lost to Detroit in the Final.
About the Golden Knights vs. the Panthers: Each of the past four head-to-head touch vs no-touch Cup Final series has been won by the team who touched the conference title trophy.
Adjust your expectations accordingly.