Two down, two to go. Eight wins into these final four teams’ respective quests for the Cup, we’ve seen some pretty remarkable performances. As the stage is set for a pair of highly anticipated Conference Final matchups, starting Tuesday night when the Colorado Avalanche host the Edmonton Oilers followed by opening night of Lightning-Rangers in New York on Wednesday, we’re taking a look at the top performances so far.
From the game’s biggest offensive stars to its most steadfast netminders, here’s a look at the top Conn Smythe candidates as we wrap up Round 2 and head into the Conference Finals.
1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
There’s elite, and then there’s Connor McDavid in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs elite. The Oilers captain was the clear-cut Conn Smythe leader after Round 1, and all he’s done since is get even better.
Seven years into his NHL career, McDavid is about to experience his first trip to the Western Conference Final thanks to his remarkable performance in Round 2, including Game 5’s overtime winner to close out what was a brief, but wild, edition of the Battle of Alberta. Through 12 contests this spring, he’s registered 10 multi-point games – including a seven-game multi-point streak that concluded Thursday – and has been held off the score sheet just once (Game 4 versus the Kings). He currently holds the league lead, along with teammate Leon Draisaitl, in playoff assists (19), points (26), and points per game (2.17).
A little context for his piling up of points: Last year, Nikita Kucherov led the league in playoff points with 32 in 23 games enroute to Tampa Bay’s second straight Stanley Cup. McDavid is just six points away from matching that, in half the time.
No player has ever tallied more than 50 points in a single playoff run. The highest total we’ve seen in one post-season is 47, registered by Wayne Gretzky in 1984-85 as he led the Oilers to their second consecutive Stanley Cup. Just two players have ever broken the 40-point barrier: Gretzky did it three times (twice with Edmonton, once with the Kings) and Mario Lemieux did it once (44 points in 1991).
Should McDavid keep up his remarkable current scoring pace, and if he can lead the Oilers to the promised land, he could be on pace for a historic 56 points (calculated based on two more rounds going a full seven games each… hey, we can dream, right?!).
2. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers
Never in the trophy’s history have we seen a pair of teammates share playoff MVP honours, but if ever there were an occasion… this would be it. Take all those adjectives we used to describe McDavid – elite, special, remarkable, historic – and apply them to Leon Draisaitl, too. If any one Oiler is to rival McDavid’s accomplishments this spring, it’s his linemate. That the two are paired together on the ice feels like a gift from the hockey gods (unless, of course, you’re a Flames fan).
So in sync are these skilled teammates that they emerge from two rounds of post-season play with identical stat lines: seven goals, 19 assists, 26 points and one game-winning goal. Both have registered at least one point in all but a single game this post-season.
Draisaitl was great in Round 1, but he was absolutely incredible in Round 2. He racked up 17 points in just five games against the Flames, and he did so while playing through an injury that’s hindered his mobility and his ability to shoot.
Draisaitl put up at least three points each game during the Battle of Alberta, his 15 assists through five matchups helping thrust him into pretty rarified air.
3. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
After six high-scoring contests against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Andrei Vasilevskiy returned to his brick-wall ways just in time to seal the first-round series against Toronto, holding the Maple Leafs to just a single goal in the Game 7 victory. Turns out, that single goal against – which ended his remarkable streak of shutouts in series-clinching games at five straight – was a sign of greatness to come for the goaltender.
Against Florida in Round 2, Vasilevskiy stared down the league’s most powerful regular-season offence, which averaged more than four goals per game through 82, and held it to just Three. Goals. Total.
Yup, last year’s Conn Smythe winner is back in playoff MVP form.
The Panthers managed just one goal in each of the series’ first three games before Vasilevskiy completely shut the door in Game 4 to complete the series sweep. Yet another series-clinching shutout to his name, Vasilevskiy’s numbers in high-stakes situations are otherworldly: In his past seven series-clinching games, dating back to his shutout against Dallas to hoist the Stanley Cup in the 2020 bubble, the netminder has let in just one goal on a combined 200 shots. How will he fare against the Rangers’ multi-pronged offence?
4. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
We saw the goal. You saw the goal. All of hockey saw the goal, which gave Colorado a 4-3 lead with less than three minutes left in a potentially series-clinching Game 5:
As fate and hockey gods would have it, MacKinnon’s incredible end-to-end effort, which also completed his natural hat trick that game, did not end up being the game-winner – the Blues’ own flare for the dramatic brought us a wild finish and a Game 6. But if you’re looking to put your finger on just what kind of magic MacKinnon can pull off at the biggest moments, this was a perfect example.
MacKinnon has been incredible all post-season long, his eight goals this spring good for third overall – second among players still in the race – and his 13 points tying him for eighth place with teammate Cale Makar.
That we now get to watch MacKinnon and McDavid suit up in a best-of-seven with a Stanley Cup Final berth on the line is truly something to be treasured.
5. Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers
When the going gets tough, Igor Shesterkin gets going. Though the young netminder had a few hiccups earlier this post-season, he’s more than made up for it when it matters most.
Through two rounds of play, Shesterkin and the Rangers have faced elimination five times – they clawed their way back from a 3-1 series deficit against Pittsburgh in Round 1 and then forced and won a Game 7 against Carolina – and came out victorious every time, thanks in large part to some sensational performances by Shesterkin. The busier he is, the better he is – in all five games with the season on the line, he faced a barrage of more than 30 shots (including 42 against the Penguins in Game 7 of Round 1 and 39 in each of the final two games against Carolina). Against the Hurricanes, he let in just four goals on a combined 78 shots in Games 6 and 7 to send the Rangers on to the Eastern Conference Final.
For all the offensive stars set to suit up in the Eastern Conference Final, this series undoubtedly belongs to the men in the blue paint.
6. Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche
After bolting out of the gates in Round 1 against Nashville to the tune of three goals and 10 points in four games, Makar was considered a favourite to claim the Conn Smythe. A (relatively) quieter Round 2, offensively, for the Norris Trophy finalist makes room for some of his NHL peers to jump ahead but a relative lack of production doesn’t mean he’s had a quiet round overall.
The Makar Effect can be seen every time he’s on the ice – because opponents need to constantly keep tabs on him, his presence opens up the ice with every shift. Not to mention, his shut-down capabilities leave no room for error for those who break into Colorado’s zone.
Perhaps the most impressive stat for Makar after Round 2 is his average time on ice, coming in at a team-leading 26:42 per night. That ranks him second among all players through two rounds of play, behind just New York’s Adam Fox. Makar’s three goals and 13 points through 10 games in two rounds is good for eighth overall in the league, while his 1.30 points per game is the fourth-best mark (tied with MacKinnon) among his NHL peers still in the race.
7. Adam Fox, New York Rangers
The Rangers have several offensive stars capable of changing the pace of the game and piling up the points – Chris Kreider has a team-leading eight goals, Mika Zibanejad is pacing the Rangers with 19 points, Filip Chytil clearly has the clutch gene, and Jacob Trouba’s physicality has been on full display, to name a few. But the steadiest hand driving offence in the biggest moments has been Adam Fox.
Fox has been a game-changer since he first arrived in New York, a major piece of the Rangers’ now-complete rebuild. Last year’s Norris Trophy winner has really shone this post-season. And, like his netminder, he’s at his best when the team’s in tough.
In five elimination games against the Penguins and Hurricanes – including a pair of Game 7s – Fox has racked up 10 points (two goals, eight assists).
Fox leads all defencemen in goals (five), assists (13), and points (18) through two rounds, his 1.29 points per game just a hair behind Colorado’s Cale Makar (1.30). Fox’s numbers are good for third league-wide among all skaters in assists and fourth in points.
8. Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers
Even among all the offensive stars in New York, Zibanejad stands out thanks to his consistent production and ability to turn a game on its head with his speed and skill. His team-leading 19 points through two rounds of play has New York four wins away from the Stanley Cup Final – not to mention, miles away from its rebuild. He enters the Eastern Conference Final on a five-game point streak and will be a force against the Lightning.
Shesterkin should be the key to victory for the Rangers, but looking ahead to the Lightning – and beyond that, a possible Cup Final matchup against the Avalanche or Oilers – keeping pace with those championship-calibre offences could prove just as important as trying to shut them down altogether.
9. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
For two straight years, and two straight Cups, Nikita Kucherov has led the Lightning in points en route to winning it all. His four goals and 15 points has him once again leading Tampa Bay in scoring, sitting fourth league-wide, and his 1.36 points per game through 11 contests so far shows just how consistent he is: He put up points at an identical pace in 2020, and registered 1.39 per game last year.
Kucherov’s presence and production will continue to be more important than ever as Tampa Bay continues its quest for a three-peat, especially considering the absence of fellow star forward Brayden Point. Point missed all of Round 2 against the Florida Panthers, in which Kucherov tallied seven points through the four-game sweep, and it’s unclear when (or if) we’ll see him again this spring.
10. Evander Kane, Edmonton Oilers
He’s scoring in bunches through two rounds of play, with a pair of hat tricks already to his name while playing alongside Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. His 12 goals this spring gives him the league lead in the category, and if he keeps up this pace he might just break the Western Conference Final wide open.
The remarkable performances of his linemates is both a major reason for his Conn Smythe consideration – at last, the Oilers have found a skater fast and skilled enough to keep up with the duo – and the biggest reason that despite his incredible production, it’s hard to see Kane landing MVP honours for his efforts should the Oilers win it all. Still, he’s more than worthy of a spot on this list of stars.