Conn Smythe Power Rankings: Blues’ Tarasenko heats up down the stretch

blues-tarasenko

St. Louis Blues center Oskar Sundqvist (70), of Sweden; defenseman Colton Parayko (55); and Vladimir Tarasenko (91), of Russia, celebrate after the Blues scored a goal. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

Four games into the Stanley Cup Final, we’re all tied up at two games apiece with the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins each stealing a game in enemy territory.

Both teams are taking turns dominating the play, and we’ve been treated to some elite goaltending performances along the way with Tuukka Rask playing his best hockey and Jordan Binnington showing resilience in spades as the master of the bounce-back game.

Now, as we dig into a best-of-three with the series shifting back to Boston for Game 5 Thursday night, here’s a look at how the Conn Smythe picture is looking.

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1. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

21 GP | .938 SV% | 1.96 GAA | 2 SO
It’s simple, really: If the Bruins win the Cup, there’s no way the Conn Smythe doesn’t belong to Rask. He’s been playing his best hockey — even when his teammates aren’t — and is the biggest reason for the club’s post-season success.

Rask has faced the most shots this spring (672) and, considering how banged up Boston’s blue line is getting, he’s got plenty more coming his way. However, he looks more than up to the task. The 32-year-old Finn has had his best performances in the Bruins’ biggest games, with both of his post-season shutouts coming in elimination games (vs. Blue Jackets in Game 6 and Hurricanes in Game 4). Only once this spring has he let in more than three goals — he let four pucks past him on 42 shots in Game 4 against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Round 1, but the Bruins still won.

Rask already has his name on the Cup as a backup (2011) and backstopped the Bruins to the Final as a starter two years later but came two wins shy of being crowned the champion. He’s the winningest goaltender in Bruins history, and a Cup victory as a starter — and a Conn Smythe to go with it — will solidify his place in Boston lore.

2. Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues

23 GP | .909 SV% | 2.52 GAA | 1 SO
The success of the Blues sits on Binnington’s shoulders, and that should give Missourans plenty of confidence. Though he struggled in Game 3, getting pulled for the first time this spring, he rebounded well one game later — a pattern we’re used to seeing with Binnington and the bounce-back Blues — and looked like the steady netminder we’ve seen all post-season.

The 25-year-old has proven himself time and time again to be the perfect person to backstop this club — the hotter the team and higher the stakes, the cooler Binnington is as the level-headed rookie netminder continues to play like a seasoned veteran.

Two more wins, and he’ll have the most victories of any rookie goaltender in a single playoff run.

Oh, and he’ll have a Stanley Cup, too.

3. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues

23 GP | 11 G | 5 A | 16 Pts | 2 GWG
The hockey world has been piling praise onto Jaden Schwartz all spring, and rightly so — after a quiet regular season, the forward has been on fire in these playoffs and leads the Blues in goals (12). It’s tough, therefore, to argue against him as the Blues skater most deserving of playoff MVP. The same goes for Ryan O’Reilly, who has proven to be the missing piece of the Blues’ puzzle and played like a man possessed in the club’s huge (and historic) Game 4 win at home Monday night.

So rather than arguing against them, we’ll instead add to the MVP chatter with a name that’s been impossible to ignore in the second half of the post-season: Tarasenko. The Russian forward was a little slow to get his post-season scoring going, but has been a consistent offensive presence since Game 1 of the Western Conference Final against San Jose. His point that game sparked an eight-game point streak, including a four-game goal streak that featured a Game 6 series winner to book the Blues’ trip to its first Cup Final since 1970.

He’s got a league-best 82 shots on goal this spring and is now one goal shy of tying Schwartz’s team-leading 12 and has a shot at the overall points lead, too. Talk about heating up at the right time.

4. Torey Krug, Boston Bruins

21 GP | 2 G | 14 A | 16 Pts | 2 GWG
There’s really no doubting that, if the Bruins hoist the Cup, the Conn Smythe belongs to the man in net. So consider this a nod for No. 2.

The list of runners-up is long: Brad Marchand leads the field in points, Patrice Bergeron is making teams pay on the power play, Charlie Coyle is making Don Sweeney look like a trade-deadline genius and the Sean Kuraly fanclub is growing with each game.

But Torey Krug is one more great performance away from separating himself from that pack in sole possession of second place.

From his helmet-less end-to-end rampage in Game 1 (and the hair flip that followed) to his dominant four-point effort in Game 3, Krug has factored heavily into every game as the most dangerous defender in this Final series and will play an even larger role now considering the state of the Bruins’ banged-up blue line. His playmaking has been excellent, especially on the power play — he’s got nine assists with the man advantage, and is tied with Marchand for overall power-play points with 11.

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