Arguably the most important individual trophy in the NHL is the Stanley Cup playoff MVP award; the Conn Smythe Trophy. The trophy is awarded at the end of the playoffs to the player deemed to have had the great impact on the playoffs and in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Since Ron Hextall took home the consolation prize in 1987 only one other player – Jean-Sebastien Giguere – has captured the trophy despite being on the losing side of the finals. It’s fair to say that this year’s winner will once again come from the team that hoists Lord Stanley’s cup.
These are the players putting in dominant performances every night with an eye on collecting MVP of the 2018 NHL playoffs.
Conn Smythe Trophy Favourites From Each Conference Final Team
Marc-Andre Fleury (G) – Vegas Golden Knights
It is finally time to take the Golden Knights seriously. After breezing past LA in the opening round of the playoffs, the Knights put an end an experienced San Jose team’s season as well. Both teams have fairly recently made appearances in the cup final whereas the Knights are in their first ever playoffs as a franchise. It took six games for the Knights to finish off Joe Pavelski and the San Jose Sharks in a series that was incredibly close despite what the game scores would say. The deciding factor in almost every game: the goaltending.
Fleury has shined bright at almost all times this season bus has looked even better as the playoffs have gone on. The Knights goalie has been the best player on his team all playoffs long and holds the best save percentage, goals against average, has pitched an insane four shutouts in just 10 total games. These achievements are even more interesting when you consider that Fleury typically loses his form when playoffs come around. Of Fleury’s eight playoffs in Pittsburgh after winning the cup in 2009, the netminder only had three playoff series with an SV% over .900.
The Knights are now one of four remaining teams in the 2018 playoffs and have good a chance to become the first expansion team in any major North American sport to win their respective sports championship trophy. If Fleury keeps up the play that he has demonstrated in his first playoff run as a Golden Knight, Vegas will have a chance to compete in every game for the remainder of the playoffs.
Nikita Kucherov (RW) – Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning have perhaps been the best team in the entire NHL all season long and are showing no signs of slowing down in the playoffs. In Tampa’s first two series, they have made quick work of both a wildcard team with little-to-no shot at the cup and a cup favourite in very similar fashion. This just goes to show that Boston’s one day lead in the Atlantic Division should never have been much of a story and Tampa is just as good as speculated.
However, Tampa is making up ground in the playoffs by playing as a whole team and not just on the shoulders of one or two stars. With that said, Kucherov is still putting himself ahead of the pack by leading his team in points over the first two rounds. The 24-year-old may have had a somewhat quite second round, but his and the Bruin’s top line were effectively cancelled out while receiving the most defensive attention. His first round, on the other hand, was a lot stronger. Kucherov racked up multiple three-point games finishing the series with 10 points in five contests and coming through in the clutch scoring the game-winner in three of the five games.
Tampa Bay has a luxury of not needing Kucherov to win every game for them considering their depth almost everywhere on the ice but it would be a significant challenge to win the cup if he has another series like the one against the Bruins. Kucherov’s Hart Trophy nomination snub should add some extra fire to his desire to help his team claim their first Cup since 2004 and get back to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in four seasons.
Alexander Ovechkin (LW) – Washington Capitals
Until Monday nights triumph in Pittsburgh, I was beginning to think that the Ovechkin lead Capitals were never going to get a whiff of the conference finals let-alone the Stanley Cup. Against all common ideology, the Capitals pulled off their first series win over the Penguins since 1994 in a tightly contested 2-1 victory to reach their first conference finals since 1998. This all comes after the Capitals had choked away numerous conference semi-final series despite being favoured to push past the early rounds and into deeper playoff territory.
Similar to the Lightning, the Capitals triumph has been a team effort but the Conn Smythe edge must go to Ovechkin. Despite all the star power that Washington continues to stock their cabinets with, Ovechkin continues to be the face of the franchise and is having maybe his best playoffs over his career. The sniper looks his typical self, taking a lot of shots, hitting, scoring on the powerplay but now finds himself on the winning side of a meaningful playoff series. Ovechkin leads the Capitals in shots, goals, and points while chipping in as usual on the power play with six points and three goals.
For Ovechkin to take home playoff MVP he simply has to keep doing what makes him great while not taking bad penalties and creating bad giveaways. His shooting percentage in the playoffs stands at 16% minimizing his turnovers and maximizing his scoring productivity. If the Caps hope to finally achieve some sort of success after failing so many times before, Ovechkin must be at the forefront.
Mark Scheifele (C) – Winnipeg Jets
Despite a great regular season, there was a reason to be somewhat sceptical over Winnipeg’s playoff chances. Coming into this year’s playoffs, the Jets franchise had never won a playoff game but after round 2, they look like a team ready to capture their first cup. Scheifele has done a great job of bouncing back from an upper-body injury that forced him to miss about two full months of action and is now perhaps the man that Winnipeg’s cup dreams lie upon.
Scheifele missed time in the regular season but still held his own putting up a point per game average of exactly 1.00. He has improved upon in the postseason, upping his average to 1.33 points per game and is currently leading all playoff goal scorers with 11 tallies in just 12 games. This is largely due to his absurd 0.367 shooting percentage. Everything Scheifele directs at the net is finding mesh and if he keeps us this pace, it will be near impossible for any team to stop the Jet’s potent scoring attack.
As good as the Jets have been at keeping the puck out of their own net, they are winning games because of their offence. The presumptuous choice would be to think the Jets are a team that has relied on depth to make it to this point but when you look at the numbers, a good few players have underachieved. Scheifele is not only performing like the No.1 centre he is, but he is picking up the slack of his teammates.
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