- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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One round does not make a Conn Smythe Trophy winner, but it certainly makes one-quarter of one. Unlike some other sports that hand out the MVP for one series or one game, the NHL's great tradition sees the MVP recognized for all four rounds of his work. One round into the playoffs, here are your top five candidates:
Well, he outplayed the two best players in the world, so by my math that makes the pride of Hearst, Ontario, the best player in the playoffs. Leadership, clutch scoring, physical play, defensive awareness -- Giroux did it all in the Flyers' opening-round win over the rival Penguins. Try 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in six games. Wow! I told you northern Ontario was God's country.
I was pretty much sold when I dropped in on Game 6 at the United Center and saw the Coyotes' netminder stop every puck 40 minutes into the night even though the Coyotes were being outshot 28-8. Smith was heroic as Phoenix topped Chicago, putting up a sensational .950 save percentage while being provided next to no offense.
Like Smith above, Quick was the No. 1 reason the Kings upset the Presidents' Trophy-winning Canucks. Quick slammed the door shut on Vancouver with a .953 save percentage, continuing what he's been doing all season for the low-scoring Kings. Team USA has another great option in goal for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
See a trend here? Just like Smith and Quick, Rinne was a human highlight reel as the Preds beat fellow contender Detroit in five games in the opening round. The Finn's .944 save percentage says it all, frustrating the Wings even on nights when Detroit outshot Nashville.
In a low-scoring series mostly decided by special teams, the 2007 Cup champion McDonald was fantastic, putting up a series-leading eight points (four goals, four assists). He provided clutch scoring on the Blues' second line and top power-play unit, and was the Blues' top player in the opening round. Not bad for a guy who missed 57 games this season with a concussion, then a shoulder issue.
Pierre LeBrun previews five candidates for the Conn Smythe Trophy in the 2012 NHL playoffs.