As the Stanley Cup Playoffs roll on, the field is down to four as we await our Cup final contenders. In a post-season as unpredictable as this one, it’s only fitting that we should have a few surprising names in the Conn Smythe conversation, too.
While the Sharks, Blues, Bruins and Hurricanes battle it out for a spot in the Stanley Cup Final, we’ve highlighted a standout performer from each club who has played a key role in getting them this far.
16 GP | .939 SV% | 1.96 GAA | 1 SO
The Bruins weren’t exactly at their best in the first period of Game 3 Tuesday night but that didn’t matter, because Rask was. The veteran netminder faced a whopping 20 shots in the first frame alone and stopped every single one of them.
“He’s captain of this ship right now,” Bruins defenceman Charlie McAvoy told Sportsnet’s Kyle Bukauskas after Tuesday’s Game 3 win in Carolina to put the Hurricanes on the brink of elimination.
McAvoy is running out of adjectives to describe Rask this post-season, and so are we — there are only so many ways to describe his brick wall-like play these days. The veteran netminder is the biggest reason behind Boston’s success this spring and as the stakes get higher, he gets hotter.
Take Round 2, for example: Down 2-1 in their series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Rask went on to save 111 of 115 shots in Games 4, 5, and 6 combined (including a Game 6 shutout) to close out the series and advance to the Eastern Conference Final. His campaign to demoralize every goal-scorer left in the East has continued through three games of Round 3 against the Hurricanes, stopping 85 of 90 shots against so far to bring the Bruins’ playoff win streak to six.
One more win, and he’ll have the Bruins heading to their third Stanley Cup Final in nine years.
17 GP | 14 G | 6 A | 20 Pts | 1 GWG
Assist-machine Erik Karlsson came up huge for the Sharks in Wednesday’s Game 3 with two goals, putting him within reach of the scoring title, but if the Sharks can win the Cup, we’re looking at Couture for the Conn Smythe right now. He has been a man on a mission this spring, leading all skaters in goals and points as the Sharks vie for a spot in the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in franchise history.
The 30-year-old has the ability to change the game with every shift — just ask the Blues. Case in point: Monday’s Game 2 of the Western Conference, wherein the span of just two minutes Couture scored twice — including a solo short-handed effort — to tie the game and reach 100 career post-season points.
He went on to tally career playoff point No. 101 in Game 3 already has five goals in the Western Conference Final, factoring into all three matchups so far while helping the Sharks take a 2-1 lead. His 48 post-season goals has him just two away from matching Alex Ovechkin for most post-season goals since 2010 (50).
“I wish I could score like this all the time. These games mean so much,” Couture said after Game 2, adding that he “won’t be satisfied” until his Sharks claim the Stanley Cup. “I try and play as hard as I can and I just happen to score some goals.”
16 GP | 9 G | 4 A | 13 Pts | 2 GWG
He’s quieted down a little bit since scoring four straight goals and back-to-back game-winners to close out the Winnipeg Jets in Round 1, but Schwartz has proven himself to be a playoff performer and is a big reason why St. Louis finds itself in the Western Conference Final.
His nine goals — eight of which were scored at even-strength — ranks him second among his playoff peers in that category, while his 20 per cent shooting percentage is the best on the Blues. He was kept off the scoresheet in Wednesday’s Game 3 loss to the Sharks but he was still a big offensive force, registering six shots.
While we’ve known the 26-year-old to be a solid contributor to the Blues when healthy, his presence in Conn Smythe conversations is surprising considering the regular season he had: In 69 regular season games in 2018-19, the Saskatchewan native tallied just 11 goals.
14 GP | 5 G | 7 A | 12 Pts
Though they’re down 3-0 in the Eastern Conference Final, the Hurricanes have seen standout performances from several different members of the “Bunch Of Jerks” that have captured the hearts of Carolinians.
Teuvo Teravainen leads the team in goals (7) while defenceman Jaccob Slavin has been thriving in the NHL’s spotlight with his lockdown defending and excellent playmaking (he’s got 11 assists). Veteran captain Justin Williams is the unquestioned leader of this squad, and goalies Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney have taken turns making headlines, but it’s 21-year-old centreman Sebastian Aho who is leading the way on the scoreboard for the Hurricanes right now.
Like many of his young teammates in Carolina, this is Aho’s first taste of post-season hockey — and he’s making the most of it. The speedy Finn has written his name on the scoresheet in five consecutive games, with three goals and seven points during that streak. He’s played his best hockey on home ice this spring, with at least one point in all six home matchups for a total of eight points on home ice. If they are to make a comeback against the Bruins, something tells us Aho will play a big part in it.