1. Stars (25-10-10-1)
Dallas has an extra gear and knows when to use it. whether protecting a lead or making a comeback. The off-season addition of free-agent sniper Bill Guerin (20 goals), steady forward Scott Young and defensive defenseman Philippe Boucher gave the team outstanding depth. Marty Turco's terrific first half (1.83 goals-against average, .929 save percentage) quieted skeptics. The Stars are the most well-rounded club in the league.
2. Red Wings (24-11-7-1)
The defending champs have more depth up front than any other team, even with captain Steve Yzerman sidelined indefinitely because of a knee injury. Curtis Joseph was only adequate in net, but he usually gets better when the stakes are raised. The biggest concern is the relatively thin back line (Jiri Fischer missed most of the first half with a torn left ACL and may not return this year), which forced Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom and 40-year-old Chris Chelios to get too much ice time. Will they be fresh in the postseason? Also, can rookie coach Dave Lewis excel in the playoffs like his predecessor, Scotty Bowman?
3. Senators (27-10-5-1)
To win the Cup, a team needs a defensive stopper (Ottawa has one in 6'9", 260-pound Zdeno Chara), quick-strike ability (28-goal star Marian Hossa), solid goaltending (Patrick Lalime, four shutouts) and enough grit to grind out wins (well...). That last item bedeviled the Senators in recent years, but with hard-nosed forwards Mike Fisher, Chris Neil and Shaun Van Allen getting regular minutes this season, Ottawa won't be caught short in that category. Having the league's second-best power play makes the Senators dangerous.
4. Canucks (25-13-5-0)
If Vancouver were in the East, it would be the conference favorite. The Canucks have size (the forwards average 6'1", 204 pounds), speed, the game's most dominant two-way defenseman (Ed Jovanovski) and outstanding role players (defensive forwards Matt Cooke and Trevor Letowski). The big question is in net—can unproven Dan Cloutier overcome the memory of last spring's disastrous series against the Red Wings?
5. Flyers (23-10-8-1)
One of their biggest advantages is having veteran Ken Hitchcock, who won the Cup with Dallas in 1999, behind the bench. No coach is better at preparing his team for the long playoff haul than Hitchcock, who is in his first year with Philadelphia. The Flyers are also built for the postseason: They are one of the largest teams in the NHL (average: 6'2", 207 pounds) and have outstanding top-end talent. Disappointing forwards Simon Gagne (six goals) and Keith Primeau (II) should rebound from poor first-half performances. One major concern is goalie Roman Cechmanek, who has flamed out in the postseason two years in a row.
Dark horse. Avalanche (17-13-9-5)
The most talented team in the league was also the most underachieving in the first half. Taking the fall was coach Bob Hartley, who was fired last month and replaced by novice Tony Granato. The new coach's job? Get Patrick Roy (2.62 goals-against average, .904 save percentage) to play like a Hall of Famer again, and improve the team's dismal home record (7-8-6-2), shoddy defensive play and penalty killing (29th in the NHL). That said, there's no team that wants to meet the Avalanche in the postseason.