As we wait for the Stanley Cup Final between the New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings to begin, let's take a look at the contenders for the Conn Smythe Trophy, the award for the most valuable player in the playoffs.
While many would have Kings' captain Dustin Brown at the top of the list, there are many other candidates that could rise to the occasion in the next two weeks and capture the hardware.
To give you an idea of how wide open the race may be from an offensive standpoint, Ilya Kovalchuk leads the playoffs in scoring with 18 points, one point ahead of Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers, who were eliminated by the Devils in the second round. Giroux and Flyers' teammate Daniel Briere still share the lead in goals with eight, one better than Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Travis Zajac. Should someone go on an offensive tear in the Stanley Cup Final, the award could be theirs for the taking.
Both the Kings and Devils have all the ingredients needed to win a Stanley Cup: an inspirational leader, an offensive sparkplug, solid play from the blueline and outstanding goaltending. So who do you think will win the Conn Smythe Trophy this year? It's Your Call.
Brown, centre Anze Kopitar, defenceman Drew Doughty and goaltender Jonathan Quick have all played key roles for the Kings in their surprisingly efficient road the Final.
Brown may be at the top of most lists at this point, having been the most consistent performer throughout the playoffs. He leads the team in most offensive categories, has dominated in shorthanded situations and gotten under the skin of the opposition in every round.
"You can go a lot of different ways with Brown," said TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie on the NHL on TSN panel. "He leads his team in goals, including game-winners, and points, including the shorthanded variety, and he's tied with Kopitar in plus/minus. He's also got the most penalty minutes, the most hits, he draws the most penalties and he makes the other team the most angry."
Brown's linemate Kopitar has the ability to light it up at any time and could very well lead the playoffs in scoring when it's all said and done. His size and offensive presence will likely be an ongoing concern for the Devils' defence in the series.
Doughty has two goals and eight assists so far and many of those points have come at crucial times for the Kings. With the aggressive forecheck and relentless pressure employed by the Kings, his ability to hold up the back end cannot be underestimated.
"Drew Doughty has hit full stride in the playoffs. He has incredible poise and controls the pace of the game," said TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger on the NHL on TSN panel. "He was very good against the St. Louis Blues and Phoenix Coyotes and the expectation is that he will continue to grow in the Stanley Cup Final."
Quick held the Vancouver Canucks to eight goals in five games, allowed just six goals in a four-game sweep of the St. Louis Blues, and outduelled Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes in the Western Conference Final. It's safe to say the Kings would not be where they are without his efforts.
For the Devils, captain Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac and future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur have all taken turns willing their team to victory.
The Devils equivalent to Dustin Brown is Parise, who leads by example each and every night. He scores big goals, initiates on the forecheck and exemplifies the workman-like identity the Devils have been known for for many years. Rest assured, if the Devils win their fourth Stanley Cup in the last 17 years, Parise will be front and centre.
The Devils' answer to Kopitar is Kovalchuk, who possesses one of the most accurate shots in the league. Yes, he takes long shifts and yes, he's not the most responsible defensive player but if you need a goal to win the game, he's near the top of everyone's list.
"I don't like some of his antics but you've got to take the good with the bad and the good is real good," said NHL on TSN anaylst Marc Crawford. "He's got breakaway speed and an outstanding shot and he's playing big in big games."
Zajac missed most of the year due to an achilles injury, playing in just 15 regular season games and scoring six points. He was a wild card heading into the playoffs but his presence in the lineup has sparked the offence and added some much-needed depth at forward. He has seven goals and five assists for 12 points in 18 games.
Brodeur has not put up numbers comparable to those of Quick but his veteran presence in the crease has still played a major role in the success of the Devils. He will be playing in his 200th playoff game in Game 1 and that kind of experience is invaluable at this time of year. His ability to remain calm, cool and collected has a positive influence both on and off the ice.
Brown, Kopitar, Doughty or Quick. Parise, Kovalchuk, Zajac or Brodeur. Which one of these Stanley Cup Final participants will win the Conn Smythe Trophy this year? Or will someone else step up and stake their claim? It's Your Call.