With the Stanley Cup final upon us, we take stock of the individual players who have the best shot at claiming the Conn Smythe Trophy as the post-season’s most valuable player.
1. David Krejci, Boston Bruins
Heading into the Stanley Cup final, there isn’t much doubt as to who is the Conn Smythe favourite. David Krejci has played a vital role for Boston this post-season, consistently scoring clutch goals and leading the entire league with 21 points. This spring Krejci has not only established himself as a playoff performer, but he has emerged as a premier two-way centre. He scored four goals in a conference finals sweep of Pittsburgh and notched a hat trick in Game 4 against Toronto. The trio of Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic is a big reason why the Bruins are back in the Cup final two years after beating Vancouver.
2. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
Tuukka Rask has been on absolute fire since the start of the second round, posting a 1.45 goals-against average and .950 save percentage in nine games while allowing one goal or less six times. The 26-year-old Finn raised his game to another level as he stoned Pittsburgh in the third round, surrendering just two goals in four games and dazzling late in the series. His .943 save percentage leads all goaltenders in the playoffs. Playing for a new contract this summer, Rask has gotten better as this post-season goes along. Can he get in the heads of the Blackhawks like he seemingly did with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin?
3. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks
Despite possessing the best GAA through three rounds, there still seems to be a lack of appreciation for the job Corey Crawford has done to help get the Chicago Blackhawks back to the final. The team wouldn’t be here without Crawford’s solid play between the pipes when their backs were against the wall in the second round against Detroit. He has also been clutch in overtime this post-season (3-1 record, .954 save percentage), unlike last spring when Phoenix burned him three times in sudden death. The hockey world keeps waiting for Crawford to fall apart, but it’s just not going to happen.
4. Bryan Bickell, Chicago Blackhawks
Teams need an unsung hero or two to step up if they want to reach the Cup final. Chicago’s unexpected hero has come in the form of power forward Bryan Bickell, who is tied for the team lead with eight goals in 17 games (he scored nine goals in 48 regular season games). Bickell, a free agent this summer, has been a force since being placed on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, similarly to when Dustin Byfuglien was unstoppable at times during the Blackhawks’ 2010 Cup run. Bickell has collected eight points in the last nine games, eight of which have been Chicago victories. Production wise, he’s arguably been their most consistent performer.
5. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
Boston’s big defenceman is currently 22nd in points this post-season and has one point in his last eight games, but offence is not why he’s on this list. Zdeno Chara played a big role in Crosby and Malkin finishing the third round absent from the scoresheet. Chara shadowed Malkin for much of the series, limiting his effectiveness in the process. Chara leads all remaining defenceman in time on ice per game (29:21) and plus-minus (+5). Defencemen often get overlooked for the Conn Smythe — a defenceman has only won it nine times — but the Bruins captain should absolutely be in the conversation.