Conn Smythe Power Rankings: MacKinnon taking game to next level

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Colorado Avalanche star forward Nathan MacKinnon drives to the net between Calgary Flames defencemen Oscar Fantenberg, left, and TJ Brodie in the first period of Game 3 of a first-round NHL hockey playoff series in Denver. (David Zalubowski/AP)

To say it was a wild, unpredictable opening round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs would be a severe understatement.

The NHL preaches parity and we got that in droves. In fact, the past two weeks has been historic in that for the first time in NHL history every single division winner was eliminated in the opening round.

The Bruins, Islanders and Sharks were the only higher-seeded team to defeat their opponent and advance to the conference semis.

Face it, your bracket is busted and odds are the player you picked to win the Conn Smythe is likely shining up his golf clubs to prepare for the summer…that is unless you had one of the players listed below.

Here are your post-first-round Conn Smythe frontrunners.

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1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
5 GP | 3 G | 5 A | 8 Pts

There might not be a more dynamic player in all of hockey at the moment. MacKinnon was only a handful of first-place votes away from winning the Hart Trophy one season ago yet he’s playing the best hockey of his career right now. He’s averaging 23:47 of ice-time – more than any other forward in the opening round – and can singlehandedly take over a game the way only a handful of players on the planet can.

“For anyone who doesn’t think MacKinnon’s one of the best, if not the best, they might want to look at this series because he can really turn it up to another level,” Flames defenceman and Norris Trophy frontrunner Mark Giordano said of MacKinnon’s first-round performance. “Tough player to play against and I thought he really took control and led their team.”

2. Robin Lehner, New York Islanders
4 GP | 1.47 GAA | .956 SV% | 4-0

Lehner’s storybook regular season ended with him being named a finalist for both the Vezina Trophy and Masterton Trophy and the big Swede carried that momentum into his first post-season as a starting netminder. Full credit to the skaters in front of Lehner and the system Islanders head coach Barry Trotz has put in place, but simply put the team wouldn’t be where it is without Lehner.

3. Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues
6 GP | 2.63 GAA | .908 SV% | 4-2

Let’s be honest, folks. He doesn’t look nervous. Not one iota. The 25-year-old Binnington has shown the poise of a 10-year veteran in the Blues crease and apart from a Game 3 outing versus the Jets in which he allowed six goals, the young netminder has been more or less unflappable. It’s a trait that won’t take second-round opponent Tyler Seguin by surprise.

“I actually trained with him the last three or four summers (in Toronto),” the Stars forward told NHL.com’s Jeff Miller. “He was always good, but I even said to him at the end of last summer, ‘Your game looks different.’ He was saving everything. Now he’s learning it at the NHL level, and he’s an incredible goalie. We’ve got a challenge ahead of us.”

4. Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets
4 GP | 2.01 GAA | .932 SV% | 4-0

At one point late in the first period of Game 1 against Tampa Bay, Bobrovsky made a sliding left-pad save that prevented the score from climbing to 4-0 Lightning. That save – depending on how the remainder of the playoffs unfold – might just end up being the most important stop in franchise history. That’s because over the next 11 periods, during which Bobrovsky only allowed five goals, the series was all Blue Jackets and they completed the sweep.

Bobrovsky has struggled historically against the Bruins, so round two might not be a breeze, but the two-time Vezina winner can flat out steal a game as well as any netminder in the league.

5. Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars
6 GP | 1.90 GAA | .945 SV% | 4-2

Everyone figured the Stars-Predators series was going to be a low-scoring affair and that’s exactly what we got. If the Stars were going to win, Bishop needed to be on his game and, well, that’s exactly what we got from the six-foot-seven goalie. It’s rare Bishop allows more than three goals in a game, so the Blues will have their work cut out for them in Round 2. Only Lehner posted better numbers in the opening round.

6. Matt Duchene, Columbus Blue Jackets
4 GP | 3 G | 4 A | 7 Pts

It has been a whirlwind season for Duchene, who began the 2018-19 campaign as a member of the Ottawa Senators. He only managed four goals and 12 points in 23 regular-season games with the Blue Jackets after a February trade, but the centre lit up the Lightning for three goals and seven points in the sweep.

Honourable mentions: Erik Karlsson, Tomas Hertl, Mikko Rantanen, Brad Marchand, Seth Jones, Logan Couture

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