Thursday, June 20, 2013
Conn Smythe faves: The Cup finalists
By Pierre LeBrun
BOSTON -- Four games into the Stanley Cup finals, there’s a bit of movement in our Conn Smythe Trophy candidate list, keeping in mind that this award -- unlike the NBA's -- reflects all four playoff rounds and not just the final series.
Still, the importance of the Cup finals has an impact on players sliding up and down the scale.
Here’s our ranking of the top four candidates on each team:
1. Patrice Bergeron
2. Tuukka Rask
3. David Krejci
4. Zdeno Chara
The skinny: We ran our Bruins’ list by center Chris Kelly on Thursday.
“I don’t think you can go wrong with all four of them,” he said. “David leads the playoffs in scoring. If you’re a betting man, Tuukka. Z plays 30 minutes every game against every team’s best players, and he contributes offensively as well. Bergy is my favorite player. He never makes a mistake.
“I’ve said this before: Bergy has the offensive ability to be up there in the scoring leaders every year, but he chooses to play the game on the defensive side of the puck, which helps our team tremendously. Same with David; he reminds me of [Jason] Spezza. He’s very creative in the offensive zone, sees the ice and controls the puck well. But he plays all three zones, he plays hard. He’s killing penalties now that Soup’s out [Gregory Campbell].”
Kelly is right. Despite the half-dozen goals Rask gave up in Game 4, he is probably the bettors’ choice, and it’s hard to argue with his rock-solid netminding since the opening day of the playoffs five weeks ago.
However, my No. 1 choice is Bergeron. I just feel that his 200-foot game and clutch ability throughout the playoffs to step up at the most pressure-packed times make him the most valuable player on this team. If the Bruins win the Cup, my Conn Smythe vote will be with Bergeron.
1. Patrick Sharp
2. Jonathan Toews
3. Duncan Keith
4. Corey Crawford
The skinny: The Blackhawks are tougher to handicap for the Conn Smythe than the Bruins, who have a more clear-cut list of candidates. Perhaps telling of the many contributions the Hawks have had from different players, there aren’t obvious front-runners. But you can’t ignore Sharp’s team-leading 10 goals. He has been a consistent force and threat in this series. The bigger the game, the more Sharp seems willing to raise his play. Toews has only two goals in the playoffs, which will hurt him in the Conn Smythe voting if the Hawks win the Cup.
“Yeah, but how can’t you have him in there?” a Bruins player, who shall remain nameless, told ESPN.com. “He does it all for them.”
And that’s just it. Despite the lack of goals, Toews has been all over the ice, doing all the other things so well for his team. The Hawks would not be two wins away from the Cup without their captain doing his thing. He's the mirror version of Bergeron.
I had Keith and Crawford ranked 1-2 for the Hawks before the finals but have found both to be average in this series. Keith is a workhorse; nobody plays more minutes, and he’s been tremendous in these playoffs. I suspect you’ll see his game rise over the final stretch of the series. Crawford has looked poised and confident in the playoffs, but I don’t feel like he ever had to steal a game. His struggles in Game 4 on Wednesday night will likely hurt him a bit with the voters. But he has time to change their minds again over the next week.