The first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is like a gift to hockey fans — great games every night, high pressure and huge plays. And we’ve only just begun.
Just one week into the post-season, we’ve already seen some incredible performances. And while the door is still wide open for someone to emerge a hockey hero, we’ve already highlighted a few players who have grabbed hold of our attention as potential playoff MVPs.
It’s never too early for a little Conn Smythe chatter, right? Here are seven players already making their mark on the post-season.
Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Golden Knights
He’s the heart, soul and leader of this surprising Vegas Golden Knights club, and his performance this spring is a major reason why they just swept the Los Angeles Kings right out of the post-season.
Fleury emerges from Round 1 having let in just three (!) goals on 130 shots over four games, giving him an otherworldly .977 save percentage and 0.65 goals-against average with two shutouts — one to open the Golden Knights’ playoff run and the other to end the Kings’. That’s crazy, but not entirely unexpected from a guy who’s got three Stanley Cup rings and a slice of history.
The only goalie close to reaching Fleury-like stats this post-season just happens to be the guy he’s up against in Round 2…
Martin Jones, G, Sharks
Between Fleury in Vegas and Martin Jones in San Jose, hockey fans have been rewarded for staying up late with some incredible goaltending performances. (More coffee, please.)
Jones faced 132 shots from the heavy-hitting Anaheim Ducks and stopped all but four as the Sharks swept their Pacific rivals. He started the post-season with a shutout and ended it with a .970 save percentage and 1.00 goals-against average.
At the pace these netminders are going, get ready for a tight, low-scoring second-round series with game-stealing saves. And you’d better get that coffee brewing, too.
David Pastrnak, RW, Bruins
Brad Marchand might be the most hated player in Toronto right now, but David Pastrnak is the most feared.
The man they call Pasta has had the Maple Leafs scrambling to find a solution for hockey’s most successful line early in their first round series, and while the Leafs kept the Bruins in check Monday night, they experienced firsthand just how dangerous he can be. The 21-year-old has been playing like a veteran and scoring like one too, with three goals and six assists to his name through three contests heading into Thursday’s Game 4, including an incredible six-point showing in Game 2 that basically lit Hockey Twitter on fire.
Sidney Crosby, C, Penguins
No “best of” list is complete without the NHL’s top guy — and boy oh boy, is he deserving of that title right now.
Crosby is quickly renewing his membership as the NHL’s greatest player early in this post-season and has been a nightmare for the Philadelphia Flyers through four games.
Crosby opened the playoffs with a hat trick in Game 1 and followed it up with four and two points in Games 3 and 4, respectively, surpassing Mario Lemieux’s all-time franchise record for playoff points in the process, with 173.
Nikita Kucherov, RW, Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning have been playing their signature fast, skilled brand of hockey against the New Jersey Devils, and that’s what Nikita Kucherov does best.
If it seems like he’s everywhere out there on the ice, it’s because he is. The 23-year-old is leading all forwards in ice time, averaging 18:42 a night, and is playing a physical game that’s not always seen from goalscorers like him.
Kucherov is coming off a career-best 100-point season, and he’s on pace for about a billion more as he digs into the playoffs. He’s got at least a point in all four first-round games so far, including two game-winning goals, with his best outing coming in Game 3 (two goals and as assist).
Artemi Panarin, LW, Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets knew they were getting a talented playmaker when they traded for Artemi Panarin last June, but we’re gonna go ahead and say they’ve never been more excited about his arrival than right now.
After putting together a career season (27 goals, 55 assists and 82 points in 81 games), the 26-year-old has effectively stolen the spotlight typically shone on another Russian scorer as the Blue Jackets lead the first-round series against Alex Ovechkin’s Capitals.
Panarin already has two goals and five assists through three playoff games, and has yet to leave the rink this post-season with less than two points beside his name.
Mark Scheifele, C, Jets
Honestly, with a team as balanced as the Winnipeg Jets, it’s a surprisingly tough task to point to just one single guy who’s making the biggest impact on the game. You’ve got Patrik Laine threatening to score every time he’s on the ice, Dustin Byfuglien making Wild players think twice about crossing the blue line, and Connor Hellebuyck poised to stop them if they do. But we’re going with Scheifele as the biggest difference-maker and early Conn Smythe candidate for the Jets so far in these playoffs.
He’s leading all forwards (and most defencemen, too) in ice time and has a team-leading three goals through four games, coming up huge in Game 4 to put the Wild on the brink of elimination.