If Jordan Binnington’s pad had been placed slightly different, or if Jamie Benn could have turned his wrists over just that much more, Ben Bishop would be the no-doubt favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy. After the way the Dallas Stars keeper played in Game 7 against the St. Louis Blues, how could he not?
In that series-deciding game, Bishop bordered on unbeatable and he was the brick wall the Stars needed him to be. All told, he stopped 52 shots of 54 shots that came his way, including a flurry of pucks across the final 40 minutes of regulation. From the beginning of the second stanza onward, Dallas was outshot by a 44-17 margin, including an unbelievable 31-4 over the course of the second and third periods. Thus, were it not for Bishop, the Stars would have seen their season end in regulation. Instead, he kept them in the contest until the second overtime, where Robert Thomas finally solved the Dallas netminder with a wrister from the circle that drew iron only to lay uncovered in the crease for Patrick Maroon to tap home.
But with Bishop out of the post-season and out of the running for the post-season MVP nod, here are your team-by-team favorites for the Conn Smythe:
Boston Bruins: The easy pick after the opening round was Brad Marchand, who was everywhere, doing everything, for the Bruins. His two-goal, three-point Game 6 against the Toronto Maple Leafs saved Boston’s season. Then the Bruins went out and won Game 7, which guided them to the second round and an eventual six-game defeat of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Marchand has ceded top spot in the Bruins’ MVP rankings, however. Not because he didn’t contribute in Round 2. He did, scoring one goal and three points in the final three games of the series. But Tuukka Rask was simply outstanding through the second round series, particularly in Game 7 when he proved himself to be every bit the big-game goaltender that the Bruins need.
As Boston enters the conference final, Rask has the best numbers of any goaltender who has played the majority of his team’s games. His .938 save percentage is significantly higher than the next-best mark by a No. 1 netminder who will be appearing in the conference final, and that gives the Bruins an instant edge entering their tilt with the Carolina Hurricanes. If Rask keeps this up and Boston wins the Stanley Cup, there’s a legitimate chance that both of the Bruins’ post-lockout Stanley Cup victories are led by goaltenders. (Tim Thomas captured the Conn Smythe in 2011.)
Carolina Hurricanes: Let’s not overthink this. Jaccob Slavin was the top choice for Carolina through the opening round and he remains the hands-down favorite as the Hurricanes head to the conference final. In Round 1, Slavin’s nine-assist output made him Carolina’s top scorer and he continued to make an offensive impact with a pair of assists in the Hurricanes’ four-game sweep of the New York Islanders. His 11 points have him atop Carolina’s scoring leaders, two points clear of Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Warren Foegele and Jordan Staal.
But Slavin’s offense isn’t what separates him from the pack. It’s his own-zone play and the way in which he’s owned the ice every time he’s stepped foot on it. Slavin has a 55.4 Corsi percentage, 56.4 shots percentage, 54.6 scoring chances percentage and 56.1 high-danger chances percentage at 5-on-5 to go along with a 61.9 goals for percentage. Given he’s skated heavy minutes and been the top matchup defenseman, those are exceptional numbers. And if he keeps it up against the Bruins’ top trio of Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak and the Hurricanes advance, Slavin will have all but cemented his spot in the Conn Smythe conversation.
San Jose Sharks: Logan Couture was the frontrunner after Round 1, particularly after the role he played in San Jose’s stunning Game 7 comeback against the Vegas Golden Knights, and he remains atop the list for the Sharks entering the Western Conference final. His nine goals are tied for the playoff lead, as are his 14 points. Couture has been logging significant minutes, too, averaging 20:40 per game as one of the attack’s primary drivers.
The thing is, though, that the margin between Couture and several other Sharks has shrunken significantly after the opening round. In particular, Tomas Hertl is starting to make his case for the award. He’s dead-even with Couture when it comes to offensive production – nine goals, 14 points – and Hertl has arguably played a bigger part in the Sharks’ overall success with two game-winning goals, including an overtime winner, and an average ice time of 22:33, which is the highest of any San Jose forward.
If he keeps playing the way he has over the past 10 games, there might be argument for Martin Jones, as well. The Sharks goaltender was awful early but has been excellent since. In fact, since Game 5 of the first round, Jones has a .928 SP, which is the third-best among goaltenders with at least four games played over that span.
St. Louis Blues: Jordan Binnington was a pre-playoff favorite. The same goes for Ryan O’Reilly, who was arguably the team’s regular season MVP. After Round 1, Alex Pietrangelo was the choice around these parts. But the frontrunner at this point for the Blues has to be Jaden Schwartz. It’s one thing that Schwartz is the leading scorer, his eight goals one shy of the league lead and his 11 points tied with Pietrangelo for the team lead, but Schwartz also has two game winners, a clutch Game 6 hat trick agains the Winnipeg Jets in the opening round and scored in four of seven games against the Stars.
Schwartz’s case is put over the top by his underlying numbers. Across 13 games, his 76.5 goals for percentage is the second-best 5-on-5 rate in St. Louis, behind only Oskar Sundqvist. Schwartz has been on the ice for 13 goals for at five-a-side, the second-most of any Blues skater, and only four against. He also possesses among the best Corsi, shots and scoring chances rates. He’s received favorable deployment, sure, but he’s made the most of every tap on the shoulder he’s gotten from coach Craig Berube.
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