Playoff Countdown: Conn Smythe Possibilities

Sunday, 04.6.2014 / 12:04 PM PT / News
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Playoff Countdown: Conn Smythe Possibilities
As the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs approach, NHL.com presents some of the early candidates to raise the MVP trophy in mid-June

The conclusion to 2013-14 NHL regular season is fast approaching. After game play Saturday, the League is down to 61 games remaining on the schedule, with six to be played Sunday. Yet, much remains to be decided in the frantic run to the finish line, including playoff qualification, playoff positioning and numerous individual accomplishments and milestones. To celebrate the eight-day countdown to the end of the season April 13 and the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 16, NHL.com will provide a piece of playoff-related content each day.

It takes contributions from a full roster to win a Stanley Cup, but through the grind of the two-month process, there is always one player who elevates his game to another level and not only hoists the most prestigious trophy in sports, but also the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Last season, it was Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane who won the award after scoring 19 points (nine goals, 10 assists) in 23 games to help the franchise win its second Stanley Cup in four seasons.

As the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs fast approach, NHL.com presents some of the early candidates, based on their performance in the 2013-14 regular season and/or past playoffs, to raise the MVP trophy in mid-June.

1. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins -- One of the best defensemen in the NHL for more than a decade, Chara averages nearly 25 minutes of ice time per game and has helped the Bruins all but secure home-ice advantage through at least the first three rounds of the playoffs. A former Norris Trophy winner as the League's top defenseman (2008-09), Chara will be asked to stop the opposition's top forwards on a nightly basis. If the Bruins go on to win their second championship in four seasons, Chara will have to play a role larger than his 6-foot-9 frame.

2. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks -- Toews' health will be pivotal to Chicago's title defense; the two-way center is expected to miss the remainder of the regular season after being hit by Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik during a game at Consol Energy Center on March 30. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said he expects Toews to be 100 percent when the playoffs begin. If that's the case, Toews and his two-way game will be the primary engine that drives the bid to repeat by Chicago. Toews won the Conn Smythe Trophy (seven goals, 22 assists) after he led Chicago to its first Stanley Cup in 49 years in 2010.

3. Ryan Miller, St. Louis Blues -- Blues general manager Doug Armstrong hopes Miller is the final piece to the puzzle, which is why he was willing to trade goalie Jaroslav Halak, forward Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier, a 2015 first-round pick and a conditional 2016 third-round pick to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Miller and rugged forward Steve Ott. Miller, 33, has been splendid since his arrival; he had 10 wins in his first 14 appearances with a 2.01 goals-against average and .920 save percentage, and has given the Blues a new swagger as they chase the Presidents' Trophy and the top seed in the Western Conference.

4. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins -- On pace to play all 82 games for the first time in his career, Crosby has helped the Penguins overcome a rash of devastating injuries throughout their lineup to lead Pittsburgh to the inaugural Metropolitan Division crown. The NHL's leading scorer is all but assured of being a finalist for the Hart Trophy; he became the first player this season to reach 100 points on Tuesday and is more than 15 points ahead of his closest competitor.

5. Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks -- Perry has a knack for scoring clutch goals; his play down the stretch in 2010-11 (19 goals in the final 16 games) led to a Hart Trophy. The 28-year-old has eclipsed 40 goals for the second time in his career this season and will almost undoubtedly play a huge role if the Ducks play deep into the spring. Perry has 45 points (18 goals, 27 assists) in 61 playoff games.

6. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings -- Aiming for his second Conn Smythe (he won the award in 2012), Quick has returned to form following a groin injury and has arguably been the League's best goaltender since the NHL resumed play after the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where Quick was the starting goalie for the United States. In a 17-game stretch which saw Los Angeles win 14 times, Quick earned 11 victories while boasting a 1.67 GAA and .932 save percentage. In the 2012 postseason, Quick went an astounding 16-4 with a 1.41 GAA, .941 save percentage and three shutouts.

7. Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks -- Is this the year the Sharks get over the hump and not only reach the Stanley Cup Final, but win that elusive championship? If it is, it's a safe bet Pavelski will play a major role. The 29-year-old center is enjoying a career year in San Jose; through 78 games, he had 38 goals and 75 points. His previous highs in those categories were 31 goals and 66 points. Pavelski has also shown an ability to be clutch in the playoffs. Seven of his 24 goals have been game-winners.

8. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers -- The 32-year-old became New York's winningest goaltender this season when he passed Mike Richter on the all-time list. But Richter has one thing Lundqvist does not: a Stanley Cup. With a 2.28 GAA and .920 save percentage in 67 career playoff games, Lundqvist will be relied on heavily to deliver the Rangers their first championship in two decades.

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL

Author: Brian Compton | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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STANDINGS

WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 z - ANA 82 51 24 7 228 221 109
2 y - STL 82 51 24 7 239 197 109
3 x - NSH 82 47 25 10 226 202 104
4 x - CHI 82 48 28 6 220 186 102
5 x - VAN 82 48 29 5 236 220 101
6 x - MIN 82 46 28 8 227 198 100
7 x - WPG 82 43 26 13 223 204 99
8 x - CGY 82 45 30 7 237 213 97
9 LAK 82 40 27 15 218 197 95
10 DAL 82 41 31 10 257 257 92
11 COL 82 39 31 12 209 223 90
12 SJS 82 40 33 9 224 226 89
13 EDM 82 24 44 14 193 276 62
14 ARI 82 24 50 8 165 267 56

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Pavelski 82 37 33 12 70
L. Couture 82 27 40 -6 67
J. Thornton 78 16 49 -4 65
B. Burns 82 17 43 -9 60
P. Marleau 82 19 38 -17 57
T. Wingels 75 15 21 -7 36
T. Hertl 82 13 18 -5 31
M. Nieto 72 10 17 -12 27
M. Karlsson 53 13 11 -3 24
M. Vlasic 70 9 14 12 23
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
A. Niemi 31 23 7 .914 2.59
A. Stalock 8 9 2 .902 2.62
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