Conn Smythe Rankings: Holtby heating up in goalie battle

Washington Capitals defenceman John Carlson, left, and goaltender Braden Holtby celebrate after the Capitals defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday, May 30, 2018, in Las Vegas. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

Now that we’re two games into the Stanley Cup Final between the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights, which players are standing out as Conn Smythe candidates?

Here’s who we’re looking at this week.

Marc-Andre Fleury
As far as goaltending goes, we’ve been pretty spoiled this spring — especially when it comes to Fleury’s blue-paint heroics for the Golden Knights. Fleury’s incredible play has made him a top Conn Smythe contender all the way to the Final, even bringing about plenty of talk of him claiming the award regardless of who hoists the Cup. If so, he’d be the first player to win the trophy but lose the Final since Jean-Sebastien Giguere in 2003, when the Anaheim Ducks fell to the New Jersey Devils.

His numbers have come back down to earth a little through two games of the Final, after letting in four and three goals in Games 1 and 2, respectively. His 1.88 goals-against average and .939 save percentage are still outstanding, however.

While Fleury has undoubtedly been one of the best stories of these playoffs, there’s another netminder who looks like he’s inching his way into the top spot thanks to a remarkable save…

Braden Holtby
We could tell you about how well Holtby has been playing this post-season, or … we could just tell you to watch this GIF over and over again:

Of course, his playoff heroics have extended far beyond Game 2’s late-game paddle save. His strong 2.19 goals-against average and .921 save percentage are on par with his career post-season numbers, and while Game 1 wasn’t his best outing — neither goaltender excelled in the series opener — his overall play this post-season, including back-to-back shutouts to get the Capitals to the Final, ranks him high on our Conn Smythe list.

Alex Ovechkin
Ovechkin was a bit quiet in Game 1 compared to some of his other performances this spring, but showed up in all his GIF-worthy glory Wednesday night to help the Capitals even up the series 1-1.

Washington’s fearless leader scored his first career Stanley Cup Final goal, his 13th playoff goal this spring — that’s got him just one shy of tying John Druce’s franchise record for most goals in a single post-season, which he set in 1990.

He now has 24 points (and counting) this post-season, ranking him second overall in that category behind teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Jonathan Marchessault
In addition to be incredibly fun to watch, Marchessault has been a constant scoring threat every time he hits the ice alongside linemates Reilly Smith and William Karlsson. He only has one assist through two games in this Final so far, but based on his post-season tallies (eight goals and 19 points in 17 games) we’re going to go ahead and say he’s got plenty more magic left.

Evgeny Kuznetsov
Kuznetsov’s incredible post-season came to a sudden halt Wednesday night when he was on the receiving end of a Brayden McNabb hit along the boards. He appeared to be in serious pain, leaving the ice immediately. He didn’t return, and the Capitals have been pretty tight-lipped on his status as we look ahead to Saturday’s Game 3.

If the injury is as bad as it looked, this would be a huge loss for the Capitals — Kuznetsov currently leads all of his peers in playoff points (25) and was riding an 11-game point streak going into Game 2.

Lucky for Washington, Lars Eller stepped up to save the day with Kuznetsov out, just as he did when Nicklas Backstrom missed four games earlier in May. Eller had five points during Backstrom’s absence, and he registered a goal and two assists to help Washington to victory Wednesday night. With plenty up in the air over the next few days, Eller is certainly a player to watch.

William Karlsson
Last week, we highlighted assist-machine Reilly Smith on our Conn Smythe contention list, but this week we’ll look at his linemate William Karlsson. The foundation is there — seven goals, 15 points and plenty of big-game plays — for the biggest surprise of the regular season to add a few more highlights to 2018.

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