With NHL down to its final four teams, the Conn Smythe race is becoming more and more crystalized.
When the conference finals began, Carey Price topped a lot of lists for playoff MVP—including the last edition of ours but his season infamously ended when New York Rangers speedster Chris Kreider crashed the Montreal goalie’s crease. Now the masked man backstopping the Blueshirts is having more impact on the post-season than any other player.
In the West, the Chicago Blackhawks have also been getting terrific play from their goalie, as Corey Crawford—Game 2’s third-period blasting aside—continues to eviscerate whatever doubts lingered about his abilities. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Kings are once again hitting the push-to-pass button on their offence in the playoffs. L.A. ranked 26th in terms of goals per game in the regular season with 2.42 but leads the playoffs in that category thanks to its current 3.25 clip. In 2011-12, the Kings finished second-last in regular-season scoring, then cranked it up to finish third in the playoffs. And with all that scoring, it’s easy to forget the only goalie left in the playoffs who could win his second Conn Smythe is Kings creaseman Jonathan Quick.
Here’s a look at the top MVP candidates as the conference finals heat up.
1. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers: Pick a goalie category. Lundqvist leads it. The Rangers’ backbone boasts a .934 save percentage, 1.93 goals-against average and has 10 victories this year, thanks to New York’s five-game winning streak heading into Game 3 of its series with Montreal. After nearly a decade in the league, Lundqvist appears poised to participate in his first Cup final.
2. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings: Kopitar leads all post-season scorers with 19 points, thanks in part to the fact he hit the score sheet in the final three contests of Los Angeles’ seven-game win over the Anaheim Ducks in Round 2. And while Kopitar has been held pointless through two games versus the 'Hawks, he won 71 per cent of his draws in Game 2. Yup, 71 per cent.
3. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks: Through two rounds, one game and two periods, Crawford’s numbers were as good as anyone's in the playoffs. The Kings may have put a slight damper on things with their five-goal third period in Game 2 (one into an empty net), but Crawford quietly remains one of the best stories of the playoffs.
4. P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens: The Habs leaned on two horses—Price and Subban—to get by Boston. Now they’re down to one, and so far Subban hasn’t hit the score sheet against the Rangers, which doesn’t exactly make him unique among his teammates. Still, Subban leads all D-men with 12 points in the playoffs.
5. Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers: If this was a list of top performers in the conference final, McDonagh would be the runaway winner. The blue-liner has a ridiculous two goals and six points in a pair of New York wins over the Habs. All that offence is equally welcomed and unsustainable, but even when it dries up we’ll be talking about how the smooth-skating McDonagh is a rock for the Blueshirts.
6. Martin St. Louis, New York Rangers: What an emotional spring it’s been for St. Louis, who buried his mother last Sunday. The savvy vet is channeling whatever is going on inside of him into terrific play on the ice, where he has goals in three of his past four games, all wins by the red-hot Rangers.
7. Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks: Let’s get this guy some love. Seabrook is often overshadowed by his Norris-calibre partner, Duncan Keith, but he’s having himself a whale of a playoffs with 11 points, which ranks him second in scoring among defenceman, behind Subban.
8. Marian Gaborik, Los Angeles Kings: GM Dean Lombardi likely didn’t dare to dream this big when he acquired Gaborik from Columbus at the deadline. The Slovakian speedster has nine goals to lead the playoffs, fitting in beautifully on the top line with Kopitar and Dustin Brown.
9. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks: “Captain Serious” already has one Conn Smythe in his closet and could yet win another with a strong finish. Four of the six goals Toews has scored this post-season have been game-winners, more than anybody in the league.
10. Jeff Carter, Los Angeles Kings: His third-period hat trick in Game 2 against Chicago vaulted him to second place on the post-season scoring chart behind teammate Kopitar. Carter tied for the post-season lead with eight goals during the Kings’ 2012 run to the Cup, and he already has seven this year.
Honorable Mention: Marian Hossa