The best postseason award in sports is the Conn Smythe Award in the NHL. It goes to the player who is best for the entire four-round playoff run, not just a single series. With the bracket now narrowed to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, Winnipeg Jets and Vegas Golden Knights, here’s a look at the players from each team who have distinguished themselves in the early rounds…
Marc-Andre Fleury (Vegas, G): Fleury not only leads the list at the halfway point, he is the list. The 95.1% save rate is the single most dominating stat of the postseason and even that doesn’t tell the story. This guy’s saves have been nothing short of spectacular, as he repeatedly sprawls out in front of the net and stops multiple shots in a row at point-blank range.
Mark Scheifle (Winniepg, C): His eleven goals are the most of anyone in the playoffs and that includes the biggest goal in Winnipeg’s run thus far. It came late in the second period last night in Game 7 at Nashville, with his team’s lead at 2-1 and the Preds having the momentum. Scheifle’s goal gave breathing room, changed momentum and effectively put his team in the conference finals.
Alex Ovechkin (Washington LW) & Evgeny Kuznetzov (Washington C): The numbers are almost identical—8 goals/7 assists for Ovechkin and 7/7 for Kuznetsov. If the Capitals win their first Stanley Cup, you have to think Ovechkin will win any vote that’s subject to reasonable debate, given that his pursuit of the first Stanley Cup to validate a great individual career is one of the overriding storylines in these playoffs.
Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay C): Tampa Bay is the deepest team in the NHL, so individual stars don’t stand out as much, but Kucherov’s 6 goals/6 assists are leading the way and if the Lightning keep winning, he’s always the guy that seems to be in the middle of it.
The Other Three Goalies: Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa), Braden Holtby (Washington) and Connor Hellebuyck (Winnipeg) have all played well, as you would expect for any goalie still alive at this point and it stands to reason that the one that hoists the Cup will have a playoff resume good enough to be in the running. Holtby in particular would be a nice story, given that he was benched at the start of the playoffs, his team lost the first two games and he’s come on to rescue them.
Two To Keep An Eye On: William Karlsson (Vegas) and Steven Stamkos (Tampa) don’t have the numbers thus far, but if either team wins the Cup, it would seem that both players are likely to be contenders. Karlsson has four playoff goals so far, but it seems much higher, given how often he’s in the middle of a Vegas surge. Stamkos is one of the best pure shooters in the game and similar to Ovechkin in that a Cup would be the crown jewel of a great career resume.