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Faceoff: Conn Smythe candidates

6/5/2011

ESPN.com's Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun handicap the candidates for the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Burnside: Well, my friend, the Vancouver Canucks are halfway to their first Stanley Cup, and, I have to tell you, the idea of trying to come up with a Conn Smythe Trophy winner from the Canucks is a bit of a challenge. At least from my vantage point having watched from afar prior to the final series, there are a handful of guys you can make a case for from Roberto Luongo to Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin to Alex Burrows and, of course, Ryan Kesler.

The problem is that different guys have risen to the occasion at different times during this playoff run.

You've seen the Canucks closer up, so what is your take on the playoff MVP race as the final series shifts to Boston with the Canucks holding a 2-0 series lead?

LeBrun: First of all, I'm not ready to write off the Boston Bruins just yet. I think this series is far from over. But if we're going to handicap the Conn Smythe on June 5, then there's no question the Canucks will dominate the conversation.

As of today, my pick just might be Luongo. Take away two brutal games in the first round and Luongo's playoff run has been sensational. I spoke with a former NHL goaltender Sunday who said he's never seen Luongo this confident and this comfortable in his own skin. And what a shocker if Luongo does end up winning the playoff MVP award when you consider his long list of doubters.

Obviously, you can't have this conversation without keying on Kesler and the Sedin twins, as well. Funny thing is, the twins struggled against Nashville in the second round, and Kesler wasn't quite as dominant versus San Jose. In the end, since you and I usually get to vote on the Conn Smythe Trophy committee, you wonder if there wouldn't be a way for the twins to share it?

Burnside: I am fully aware that the Canucks are still two wins away from a Cup win. As recently as 2009 the Detroit Red Wings owned a 2-0 lead over Pittsburgh and lost in seven games, so we get that this isn't done. Still, the confidence shown by the Canucks suggests the Bruins have dug themselves a mighty hole. Perhaps because they have yet to win a game in this series, it's hard to imagine a Bruins player that you would tab as a Conn Smythe candidate. But I will go out on a limb and suggest Dennis Seidenberg, who has been a rock for the Bruins playing alongside captain Zdeno Chara and playing significant minutes every night. And of course if the Bruins do get back in the series, Vezina Trophy nominee Tim Thomas figures to be a huge factor.

But back to the series-leading Canucks. Yes, Luongo would be a pretty dramatic choice given all his playoff foibles. But for me, I might lean toward Burrows. Yes, a lightning rod for controversy given his bite of Patrice Bergeron and his yapping, etc., but he has delivered on the power play and penalty kill and, more importantly, in the clutch all spring.

LeBrun: Burrows is a nice dark horse choice. He's tied for the team lead with nine goals and some them couldn't have been more clutch. Remember that the Canucks would have been golfing long ago had Burrows not scored in overtime of Game 7 against the Blackhawks in the first round. Of course, Burrows doesn't get to score that goal unless Luongo stones Patrick Sharp during a Chicago power play in overtime in what was a heart-stopping moment for both teams. But as for Burrows, I think if he pots a few more goals in this series, he'll get some Conn Smythe attention.

"He's a great hockey player," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "He scored 35 goals last year. The coach didn't put him once on the power play. Imagine if I would have put him on the power play.

"For me, I just think that Alex gets the game. He understands not only the game on the ice, but he understands the game off the ice. I think that's why he's been able to make himself into a very good hockey player," the coach said Sunday.

"He was one of the hardest workers I had when I had him in Winnipeg. Came here to Vancouver, and he just kept plugging away, kept working at his game. He's a great example of, you know, if you stick with it and you work at it, things will come around."

Burrows' detractors, of course, will point out that he's playing with the Sedin twins. Would he be producing this offense on any other line?

What about Kevin Bieksa as a long-shot candidate? The hard-nosed Bieksa has been Vancouver's best blueliner this spring, and we all remember his overtime goal against San Jose that got the Canucks into the Cup finals. He's a long shot, but there's still time for him to make his case.