Race is wide open for Conn Smythe Trophy

TSN.ca Staff
5/22/2008 9:35:32 PM
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The journey to the Stanley Cup Final has been a thorough team effort for both the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins, making the selection for this year's Conn Smythe Trophy winner a wide open race.

And while there's always been an underlying myth that stellar goaltending in the playoffs make championship winners and MVP honours, Marc-Andre Fleury and Chris Osgood aren't the runaway favorites for their respective teams.

That's not saying that both players shouldn't get consideration.

Fleury, who struggled early on his career, was in danger of giving up the No. 1 job earlier this season to teammate Ty Conklin. The first overall pick in the 2003 draft elevated his play down the stretch with a 12-2 postseason record, a 1.70 goals-against average, a .938 save percentage and a playoff-leading three shutouts. Osgood, who replaced a struggling Dominik Hasek in Game 5 of the first round against the Nashville Predators, has been equally impressive with a 10-2 record, a 1.60 goals-against average and .931 save percentage.

But as solid as both netminders have been this spring, it's impossible to ignore the other candidates that are playing in front of them.

At Pittsburgh's end of the ice, Evgeni Malkin has a very good chance to join Bobby Orr, Guy Lafleur and Wayne Gretzky as the only players to capture the Hart Trophy and playoff MVP honours in the same season. The 2008 regular season MVP finalist has been an offensive gem in the postseason with 19 points in 14 games. The Russian forward, known for his combination and skill and finesse, has also shown the gritty side of his game - reminiscent of Pavel Bure's memorable performance in the 1994 playoffs.

Captain Sidney Crosby is also a prime candidate, sharing the league lead the postseason scoring with 21 points in 14 games. While his goal total (four) is rather low, the 20-year-old phenom has proven his worth as an elite playmaker. Case in point: Sid The Kid leads the league in playoff helpers with 17 assists and is averaging a point and a half a game.

Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg is the other player who shares the league lead in postseason scoring, and another solid pick for MVP. The 2008 Selke Trophy is second in goals (11) and game-winning goals (3), and also leads in plus-minus with a plus-15 rating.

Zetterberg's 'competition' for Conn Smythe consideration is, fittingly, the Red Wings' other Selke finalist in Pavel Datsyuk. He has been Detroit's Road Warrior, with 14 of his 19 playoff points (nine goals, five assists) scored while wearing road whites.

And even though he missed most of the Western Conference final due to injury, Johan Franzen's contributions should also be considered. He was arguably the MVP-favourite through the first two rounds, and still leads the postseason in goals and game-winners despite missing five games. With a clean bill of health for the final, 'The Mule' can make a difference again.

The other dark horse for the Conn Smythe Trophy is Pittsburgh's Marian Hossa. The Penguins paid a steep price for his at the trade deadline, and the soon-to-be-free agent has certainly not disappointed. With 11 points in his last six playoff games, he could continue his hot streak into the final and potentially take over the postseason scoring lead.

That being said, there are four-to-seven games remaining in the Stanley Cup playoffs and the race for MVP should be wide open right to the final buzzer.

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