With each team remaining now less than eight wins away from securing The Stanley Cup, it is time to take an in-depth look into which players are the favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy.
The Conn Smythe Trophy goes to the most valuable player in the postseason.
Eastern Conference: Victor Hedman, Phil Kessel
Victor Hedman (TB): The big 6’6 Swedish defender has been an absolute stalwart on defense for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Averaging over 27 minutes a night, he consistently has been going against the opposing team’s best player. In the first round that meant shutting down Dylan Larkin, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and the rest of the Detroit Red Wings offense to a minimum. Those three players combined for two goals in the first round.
In the second round, Hedman and his mates were tasked with shutting down John Tavares and the New York Islanders. After a brilliant first round which Tavares ended by scoring the game-winning overtime goal to push the Islanders to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in the 21st century, he came into the series with a lot of momentum.
He torched the Lightning in Game 1 to the tune of a goal and an assist and a 5-3 Islanders victory. In games two through five, Hedman shut down Tavares as he did not pick up a single point the rest of the series. Now up against the dangerous Pittsburgh Penguins, Hedman is tasked with being the primary defender on either Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby. Should the Lightning advance past this series and to the Stanley Cup, Hedman’s defense will be a big reason why.
It is not just about his defense though, as Hedman is a fantastic skater, very aggressive, and good with the puck. That has resulted in offensive production of almost a point a game. In addition to his defense, that offensive success has resulted in success for the Tampa Bay Lightning and may lead to him being the Conn Smythe winner should Tampa win the Cup.
Phil Kessel (PIT): Phil Kessel has been dynamite for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs so far this year as part of an ultra-productive third line with Carl Hagelin and centered by Nick Bonino. Kessel is averaging a goal every other game during the postseason and has more points than games played.
A powerful forward with good speed, he and Hagelin on the wings have speed that other teams have difficulty matching. The three forwards combined to score the series winning goal in overtime of Game 6 in the second round of the playoffs against the Washington Capitals.
With Sidney Crosby on one line and Evgeni Malkin on the other, the production that the Penguins are getting from their third and fourth lines are incredibly important for their success. Although he was a star player on other teams, for the Penguins he is a depth player playing like a star. If their production continues, the Penguins could soon be holding Lord Stanley’s Cup with a player like Phil Kessel getting the postseason MVP honors.
Western Conference: David Backes, Logan Couture
David Backes (STL): As the captain of the St. Louis Blues, Backes has been instrumental in the Blues previous two series. Behind his production and leadership, the Blues have advanced past the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks in the first round and the best regular season Western Conference team in the Dallas Stars in the second round.
Backes is playing heavy minutes for this team and plays in all situations. He has three power play goals and his +4 implies that he has been solid for this team in 5-5 situations as well. If the Blues are going to get to the Cup final, they will rely heavily on Backes as he will mostly be matched up with either Joe Pavelski or Logan Couture’s line.
Not only will Backes need to continue his offensive production, but he will need to also limit the production of the San Jose Sharks best players. He has started to build a reputation for scoring big goals and he already has a couple game-winning goals this postseason. Look for Backes to be huge in the critical moments of the game, especially if any remaining game in their postseason should go into overtime.
The Blues need Backes to be one of the best players on the ice if they want any chance of dispatching the Sharks in the Western Conference Final and then whichever East team they would face in the final. His production and leadership make him the favorite to win the Conn Smythe on the St. Louis Blues.
Logan Couture (SJ): With 19 points so far in 14 games, Couture leads the entire NHL in points in the postseason and has already set a franchise playoff record for points in a single postseason. His production is a big reason why the San Jose Sharks are one win away from tying a franchise record for wins in the postseason.
Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, and Tomas Hertl have dominated opposing teams as the Sharks’ first line, so other teams have been forced to play their best defensemen against that line. With all that attention that the Sharks first line has gotten, it has left the door open for Couture and his linemates to spend their ice time against the second pairing of opposing teams.
This has been a success for the Sharks as Couture has been dynamite on offense. He is also one of the Sharks best defensive forwards, and is part of the lethal Sharks power play that seems to score goals in bunches. Couture also leads a sharks penalty kill that struggled during the regular season but has been much better in the postseason.
Playing in every situation and being as successful as he is, the Sharks are not at this point in the postseason without their assistant captain finally being 100% healthy and productive. If the Sharks can win the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history, look for Couture to be the one to pick up the MVP honors.
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