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With the Los Angles Kings‘ double overtime loss on Saturday night, Jonathan Quick‘s campaign to become the first back-to-back Conn Smythe Trophy winner since Mario Lemieux came to a crashing halt. As a result, we now know the next player to earn the coveted title of playoff MVP will be either a Blackhawk or a Bruin.
The heavily anticipated Original Six finals matchup features two of the last three clubs to lift the Cup, but neither of their Conn Smythe Winners find themselves on the shortlist for this years award. Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews has led his team to back to the finals, but a relative lack of production throughout the postseason makes his second award unlikely.
Bruins goalie Tim Thomas picked up the honor in 2011, but opted to spend this season in his presumably impenetrable Colorado bunker. The Bruins haven’t missed him though, as his replacement finds himself checking into the finals as the odds on favorite to win the Conn Smythe.
1. Tuukka Rask – Boston Bruins
The 26-year-old Rask enjoyed a very strong regular season, but he has truly stepped out of Tim Thomas’ shadow with an otherworldly postseason. After a rock solid start in the first two rounds, the Eastern Conference Finals proved to be Tuukka’s time. Squaring off against a stacked Pittsburgh Penguins offense, Rask was unbeatable. The Finnish netminder allowed just two goals in the series, pitching shutouts in Game 1 and Game 4. Perhaps his best performance came in Boston’s Game 3 double overtime win, when he turned away 53 Penguins shots. In the four game series, the Bruins netminder kept Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla and Kris Letang off the scoresheet entirely. His .943 save percentage ranks first among goalies this postseason, and if he backstops the Bruins to another title, he will likely pick up the Conn Smythe.
2. David Krejci – Boston Bruins
Bruins center David Krejci has enjoyed yet another dominant playoff campaign, two years after leading the NHL in postseason points en route to the Stanley Cup. This summer he leads the league in points (21) and goals (9). He started with a bang posting 13 points in seven games against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and he is coming off a brilliant series, in which he scored four goals in four games against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Krejci’s offensive explosion has awakened Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic, making the Bruins’ top line the most efficient in the playoffs. If he continues to lead the way offensively for the Bruins in the finals, he could snatch the award.
Once the Blackhawks most worrisome playoff weakness, Corey Crawford has become their greatest strength. After failing to carry his team out of the first round last spring, Crawford has turned in a sterling performance this time around. After out-dueling Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Quick, it is time for Crawford to get some attention. His 1.74 goals against average is the best in the playoffs and he is undefeated in close-out games. A Blackhawks victory in the finals likely means a Conn Smythe win for Crawford.
4. Patrick Kane – Chicago Blackhawks
Though he has struggled at times in the postseason, Patrick Kane loves nothing more than a big stage. Blackhawks fans will never forget his Game 6 overtime winner that brought the Cup to Chicago in 2010. After knocking out the Kings with a Game 5 hat trick, which included the double OT winner, Kane is red hot and hungry for more. He is tied for the team lead with 14 points, and the supremely skilled winger could be the difference-maker in the finals.
5. Patrice Bergeron – Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins would never have survived the first round without Patrice Bergeron. The B’s center engineered the Bruins miraculous Game 7 comeback against the Toronto Maple Leafs, tying the game in the final moments and adding the winner in overtime. He also assisted on Brad Marchand‘s Game 1 OT winner against the Rangers, and he beat Penguins goalie Tomas Vokoun in the second extra session of Game 3 in the Conference Finals. In addition to his overtime heroics, Bergeron has stifled opponents with his world class defensive game. His faceoff brilliance and ability to frustrate opposing stars, like Sidney Crosby, has been crucial to Boston’s playoff run. If he comes through in the clutch again, he’ll fly up this list.
6. Bryan Bickell – Chicago Blackhawks
When stars slump in the playoffs, role players have to step up, and Bickell has done just that. While Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane struggled, Bickell picked up the slack. He currently sits in a three-way tie for the Blackhawks team lead with 14 points. The winger devastated the L.A. Kings with seven points in five games. With eight playoff goals, Bickell trails only David Krejci, who he will certainly hope to surpass next week.
7. Nathan Horton – Boston Bruins
With a free agency looming, Nathan Horton has raised his game to a whole new level and he’ll reap the rewards this summer. Horton ranks second in playoff points with seventeen, scoring seven goals in 16 games. Drafted third overall in 2003, Horton has shown off some serious skills, especially in the first two games of the Conference Finals. Horton contributed to five of the Bruins’ eight goals as they took a commanding series lead by winning both games in Pittsburgh. Horton’s plus-21 rating is the best in the playoffs, and he doesn’t seem to be letting up. Two years after missing most of the Stanley Cup Finals with a concussion, Horton will hope to be in it to the very end, and he could be the one to tilt the series in the Bruins’ direction.
8. Marian Hossa – Chicago Blackhawks
Back in the finals for the fourth time in six seasons, Marian Hossa is the Blackhawks most gifted goal scorer. Along with Bickell and Patrick Sharp, Hossa is tied for the Blackhawks lead with 14 points and he might not yet be at his best. The winger has seven goals this postseason, and he has come close many more times. If anyone on the Blackhawks can stump Tuukka Rask, it’s Hossa. He will need to make an impact for the Blackhawks, and if he does so, he could become the first Slovakian to ever win the Conn Smythe Trophy.
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