The stars cruised through the first round last year without another key defenseman, suspended captain Derian Hatcher, but Zubov (above) is even more important to Dallas than Hatcher was. He not only runs the power play, but he also controls the tempo of the game with his passing. "We're a lot better in transition with him," coach Ken Hitchcock says. "We seldom get bogged down." Zubov is expected to return from the injury to his right medial collateral ligament late in the first round, and with Sylvain Cote, a critical late-season addition, filling in on the point, the Stars should slip past the Edmonton Oilers.
One concern for Dallas is that its swagger seems to be missing, which could prove to be its undoing. Rarely do the Stars strip an opponent, leave it by the side of the road and sell the parts for scrap anymore. "Last season we would control the tempo of the game and never beat ourselves," Hitchcock says. "This year we've had a tendency to make big errors. We've had to rely on our goalie [Belfour] even more. We're a little bit of a mystery now, even to us."
9 Will Ottawa's gamble on Tom Barrasso work?
Traditionally, the senators have had the most collegial of dressing rooms, John Belushi's Delta Tau Chi on ice. In the riskiest trade of the year, they added Barrasso, the NHL's equivalent of Dean Wormer. The opinionated Barrasso can be a difficult person. He can also win a playoff series almost single-handedly, as he proved in Cup-winning years in Pittsburgh (1991 and '92) and in the first-round upset of the Devils last season. Barrasso has a portfolio that makes him indispensable for Ottawa, which unraveled in the first round last year. "He's good for us," defenseman Wade Redden says of Barrasso, who has battled injuries and the emotional turmoil of his father's death this season. "He's confident in everything he does. He'll stand in there, even if we get down."
"I had dinner with Tommy last week," said Flyers winger Rick Tocchet, a former Penguins teammate from 1992 to '94. "He's keyed up, excited about being there. I've seen him steal games, steal series. Tommy is a great athlete, but he's also technically sound. Not too many goalies are both."
10 So who will win the Cup?
The devils will come out of the East, but before the season we picked Dallas to win it all, so we'll stick with the Stars.