And then there were two.
Now, with the field narrowed, we’ve got six players who have especially impressed us over the course of the post-season so far — and who look poised to step up in the name of the Cup, starting on Monday night.
We’ll begin with the most impressive performance — not to mention the obvious Conn Smythe front-runner — in net for the Golden Knights, who could just make the kind of history we haven’t seen since 2003…
Another edition of our Conn Smythe rankings, another appearance from Fleury. He stole the show on multiple occasions during the Western Conference Final against the Winnipeg Jets, leaving opponents scratching their heads and (begrudgingly) singing his praises. After letting in four goals in the series opener, the 33-year-old backstopped the Golden Knights to four straight wins while letting in just six goals in Games 2 through 5 to wrap up the series 5-1.
His stat line continues to be worthy of a double-take — yes, he really does have a .947 save percentage and 1.68 goals-against average through 15 playoff games. If Vegas wins the Stanley Cup — and, at this rate, would you really be all that surprised if they did? — then Fleury’s the absolute no-brainer Conn Smythe winner.
Heck, his outstanding play all post-season even begs the question of whether he might pull a Jean-Sebastien Giguere and claim playoff MVP even if the Golden Knights lose. (The Ducks netminder was awarded post-season MVP in 2003 after losing to the Devils, making him just the fifth player in NHL history to do so on the losing team.)
And at the other end of the rink, we’ve got another netminder quickly rising to Conn Smythe contention. Holtby got hot at the perfect time for the Capitals, earning back his starting job against Columbus in Round 1 and keeping it through the two rounds that followed. After registering exactly zero regular-season shutouts for the first time in his career — this, after matching a career-high nine in 2016-17 — Holtby posted back-to-back shutouts to not just fight back against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final, but finish them off in Game 7. Talk about timing.
It’s been a long and painful road to the Stanley Cup Final — one filled with early-round heartache at the hands of Sidney Crosby’s Penguins. Honestly, is there anyone out there not kind of rooting for Ovechkin at this point?
It’s not like he hasn’t done enough to deserve it. The Capitals captain isn’t just the emotional leader of this club — he’s also leading them in goals (12), and he’s stepped up in their biggest games, wasting no time in getting the Capitals on the board just 62 seconds into Game 7 against the Lightning with a stunning shot from the office.
Vegas has been winning with a likeable cast of unlikely heroes all season long, and Marchessault is the latest to take his place in the spotlight. He’s certainly doing it in style — and we’re not just talking about his wheels.
He leads Vegas in post-season goals (8) and points (18) while also registering a six-game point streak including back-to-back two-goal games against the Winnipeg Jets.
The supporting argument here is obvious: Kuznetsov leads all skaters in playoff points, with 24, which is also a franchise record for most points in a single post-season. He’s been a consistent offensive force for Washington — like, 10-straight-games-on-the-scoresheet consistent.
His most recent game without registering a point was Game 3 against the Penguins on May 1. He’s been on fire ever since, totalling six goals and nine assists in the past 10 games. Through 19 playoff games this spring, Kuznetsov has tallied 11 goals and 13 assists, failing to score a point in just four games.
Yeah, he’s a long shot for the Conn Smythe, but Smith’s post-season accomplishments are absolutely worth talking about. The Golden Knights forward has helped shape Vegas’s post-season in a big way, registering a team-high 14 assists through 15 games (that ranks him second among all players in that category). Smith, 27, has finished just four games this post-season without posting a helper.