Conn Smythe Power Rankings: Stars' Khudobin gaining ground

Hockey fans have been treated to some impressive performances from the bubble during these unique 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The race for playoff MVP has been a fun one to follow and it continues Saturday when the Stanley Cup Final begins with the Tampa Bay Lightning taking on the Dallas Stars. Before the Cup is hoisted, the Conn Smythe Trophy will be handed out and there’s a small group of players vying for the hardware.

At times throughout the playoffs the Vegas Golden Knights looked like the best team in hockey, however they were felled by the Stars in just five games – two of which required overtime – and with that Conn Smythe contenders Shea Theodore and Mark Stone were crossed off the list.

Meanwhile, in the East, the New York Islanders leaned on standout performances from Josh Bailey, Anthony Beauvillier and Brock Nelson to get as far as they did but it was ultimately not enough to reach the championship.

With just two teams remaining, here are the players with a legitimate shot at winning playoff MVP if they have an impactful Stanley Cup Final showing.

1. Brayden Point, C, Tampa Bay Lightning

He wasn’t producing quite at the same level of Nathan MacKinnon when the Avalanche were alive, offensively speaking at least, but Point has been the best 200-foot player in the playoffs and it hasn’t really been close.

His value to his team was cut-and-dry in the Islanders series. He missed two games in the East Final and Tampa lost both games without him. Point sustained an undisclosed injury in Game 2 that caused him to miss Game 3. He returned with a two-point effort in Game 4, missed Game 5 then logged 25:47 of ice time for Game 6, which Tampa won in OT. Unless his injury really limits him in the Final, then he’s the frontrunner for the award.

2. Miro Heiskanen, D, Dallas Stars

If hockey fans weren’t familiar with Heiskanen prior to the playoffs, they sure are now. The 21-year-old Finnish blueliner has firmly established himself as one of the most talented young players in the league. His stock has skyrocketed this post-season as he leads all defencemen with 22 points in 21 post-season games so far. He cooled down offensively against Vegas yet continues to routinely make positive plays at both ends of the ice.

3. Anton Khudobin, G, Dallas Stars

Tyler Seguin said Khudobin reminds him of his former Boston Bruins teammate and 2011 Conn Smythe winner, Tim Thomas, in that Khudobin is a backup goalie that has taken control of the crease and has his team four wins away from the franchise’s second Cup in its history.

Khudobin is on a serious hot streak entering the Stanley Cup Final, winning five of his past six starts -- including a 40-save performance in Game 7 against Colorado -- and posting a .950 save percentage against Vegas.

4. Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, Tampa Bay Lightning

With a 14-5 record, .931 save percentage and 1.82 GAA, Vasilevskiy has been the top netminder in the playoffs even though he doesn’t have a single shutout and hasn’t needed to stand on his head.

Only three goalies have won the Conn Smythe Trophy in the salary cap era: Cam Ward in 2006, Thomas in 2011 and Jonathan Quick in 2012. Both Thomas and Quick had sub-2.00 GAAs when they won, although they each had better a save percentage than Vasilevskiy.

5. Nikita Kucherov, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning

The 2019 Hart, Art Ross and Ted Lindsay winner has set a new Lightning franchise record for most assists during a single playoff run and he currently leads all players with 26 points. Kucherov had 10 points in six games against the Isles. He and his linemates, Point and Ondrej Palat, have been a handful for opponents.

6. Victor Hedman, D, Tampa Bay Lightning

Hedman has been his usual dominant self, sitting second in playoff goals with nine and leading all skaters with a plus-19 rating. It’s his leadership in the absence of team captain Steven Stamkos that has impressed Lightning head coach Jon Cooper the most this summer.

7. Jamie Benn, LW, Dallas Stars

The Stars captain was quiet through the qualifying and opening rounds with just two goals, two assists in his first nine post-season outings. He stepped things up against the Avalanche and Golden Knights with 14 points in 12 games including goals in Game 3, 4 and 5 against Vegas. He has done enough to warrant Conn Smythe consideration -- especially if he’s his team’s best player in the Final.

Honourable mention: Denis Gurianov, Joe Pavelski

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