Updated Ranking of the Top Conn Smythe Candidates in the 2014 NHL Playoffs
Which players have been most impressive throughout the playoffs to date?
There exists no shortage of candidates. The four surviving teams in this postseason have all leaned on key standouts to survive challenges through the first two rounds, and fans have been blessed with exceptional performances from individual players at all positions as a result.
The following list features my top-10 candidates for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP if a decision were to be made today.
10. Brad Richards, New York Rangers
By the numbers: 14 games, five goals, 10 points, plus-two
Performance to date: Through two rounds, Brad Richards was the Rangers' offensive leader by a hair (though he's fallen behind others following New York's 7-2 blowout of Montreal on Saturday). He has provided some strong play down the middle as New York's other pivots struggled to produce.
Looking ahead: Richards is part of the by-committee offence from the Rangers, which includes a half-dozen players who are separated by very little. He'll need to keep scoring to stay in the conversation.
9. Marian Hossa, Chicago Blackhawks
By the numbers: 12 games, two goals, 11 points, plus-four
Performance to date: Marian Hossa leads all Chicago forwards in scoring, and remarkably, he's done it while in the midst of a massive shooting percentage slump. With just two goals on 47 shots, Hossa has been nearly as snake-bitten as the much-criticized Rick Nash, but he's found other ways to put up points while playing his always excellent defensive game.
Looking ahead: Hossa wouldn't be out of place on the Kings' roster either; he's exactly the kind of two-way player that they love to collect. He's due for some of his shots to go in, and if he keeps firing pucks at the rate he has, he will eventually be rewarded.
8. Marian Gaborik, Los Angeles Kings
By the numbers: 14 games, nine goals, 15 points, plus-four
Performance to date: Marion Gaborik has been brilliant through two rounds. His fit in L.A. shouldn't really come as a surprise; Gaborik's best years came with the Jacques Lemaire-coached Wild and the John Tortorella-coached Rangers. But, he's been given a two-way centre in Anze Kopitar virtually without peer in the game, and he's been a key factor in unlocking Kopitar's offensive potential by giving him the kind of creativity on the wing he's never had at the NHL level.
Looking ahead: Gaborik is the Kings' biggest change since falling to Chicago in five games last season; he offers the kind of one-shot scoring that Patrick Kane gives Chicago. He'll need to be at his best if the Kings are to keep their suddenly potent offence clicking.
7. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
By the numbers: 12 games, eight wins, four losses, 0.919 save percentage, one shutout
Performance to date: Carey Price has had some poor games; notably he struggled in Game 1 against Tampa Bay and Game 5 against Boston, but on the whole he has provided sterling play for the Canadiens. In a head-to-head battle with Tuukka Rask, generally regarded as the best goalie in the NHL, he was the better of the two netminders.
Looking ahead: The concern with Price now is injury. Rangers winger Chris Kreider slammed hard into the Montreal goaltender in the first game of the third round, and while Price stayed in the game he was pulled at the end of the second, and it wouldn't be a surprise if he's less than 100 percent healthy.
6. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks
By the numbers: Eight wins, four losses, 0.931 save percentage, one shutout
Performance to date: One needs to go back to the first round to pick up when the narrative on Corey Crawford started to shift. In that series against St. Louis, goaltending was supposed to be the 'X factor' for the Blues, with Ryan Miller a franchise 'tender and Crawford less than that. Instead, Crawford outperformed Miller and was a critical factor in his team advancing.
Looking ahead: The Kings are on fire offensively in these playoffs, but ranked 26th in the NHL (one spot behind Edmonton) in goals per game during the regular season. It will be up to Crawford to help his team make sure that Los Angeles can't score the way they have in the last couple of rounds.
5. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
By the numbers: 14 games, one goal, nine points, plus-seven
Performance to date: Drew Doughty has taken on enormous minutes with the succession of injuries on the L.A. blue line, and he's excelled in them. One of his great gifts is an ability to transition from defence to the attack, using his exceptional speed and vision to move the puck out of his own end and trigger a Kings rush.
Looking ahead: Nothing's really going to change for Doughty in the third round. He's had plenty of opportunity to show he can handle massive minutes against top offensive players; he's going to be forced to do more of the same against Chicago.
4. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
By the numbers: 12 games, five goals, 10 points, plus-five
Performance to date: Jonathan Toews, taking on tough matchups against two very stingy defensive teams, has yet to really explode offensively in these playoffs. He's been a dominant two-way player, though, with Chicago winning the shot attempts battle by a wide margin when he's on the ice despite the calibre of opponent he's played against.
Looking ahead: Few one-on-one matchups are as intriguing as the possibility of Toews going head-to-head with Anze Kopitar, a brilliant two-way talent and the hottest forward in the NHL in this postseason. It's going to be a formidable challenge for Toews.
3. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
By the numbers: 15 games, nine wins, six losses, 0.929 save percentage, zero shutouts
Performance to date: Henrik Lundqvist was the Rangers' most valuable player in closing out the Penguins in Round 2, allowing a grand total of three goals against on 105 shots in the final three games. He's been a standout in the last two New York playoff runs, and he's in fine form once again.
Looking ahead: Lundqvist didn't need to be great in his team's first game against Montreal, but the Canadiens showed exceptional perseverance against Boston, and at some point in this series he's liable to be tested once again.
2. P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens
By the numbers: 12 games, four goals, 12 points, plus-one
Performance to date: P.K. Subban was arguably Montreal's best player in the first round, but he didn't get a lot of attention because the series was over so quickly. That changed against the Bruins, where Subban was seemingly everywhere, scoring and hitting and agitating and making a massive difference for his team.
Looking ahead: The Canadians were hammered in the first game of the Eastern Conference Final, but there is a lot of hockey yet to be played in that one. Subban was pivotal against Boston; he'll need to lead the charge against New York, too.
1. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
By the numbers: 14 games, five goals, 19 points, plus-eight
Performance to date: Long (and deservedly) renowned as one of the NHL's top defensive forwards, Anze Kopitar has added an offensive element that surpasses what he did during the regular season. Kopitar has points in 13 of 14 Kings games (in the lone exception, Los Angeles was shutout).
Looking ahead: One of the secrets to Chicago's success in last year's Western Conference Final was its ability to shutdown Kopitar, who was pointless in four of five games and minus-three overall on the series. After facing top centres in the last two series, Kopitar will now go head-to-head with the daunting Jonathan Toews.
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