As early as Sunday or as late as Wednesday, the 2019 Stanley Cup champions will be crowned, and who goes into Game 6 with the chance to hoist the sport’s ultimate prize will be determined Thursday night when the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues battle it out in an all-important Game 5.
But the Stanley Cup won’t be the only prize awarded sometime in the next six days. Along with it, the NHL will also name the Conn Smythe Trophy winner, honoring the player adjudged to be the post-season’s most valuable player. And the list of players in true contention to win the award has changed with each passing game throughout this final. In fact, a few players who appeared on this list before the series are mere honorable mentions at this point.
While this list could change given a big performance in any of Games 5, 6 or 7 – should the series go the distance, of course – here are the frontrunners for the Conn Smythe with the Stanley Cup final nearing its culmination:
5. Charlie Coyle, Boston Bruins
Some might argue this spot should belong to Bruins winger and post-season scoring leader Brad Marchand or Blues minute-munching defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, but Coyle vaults ahead of both based purely on production in the final. That will matter to those who vote for the award, and Coyle has had an impact in almost every game this series. In fact, Game 1 is the only outing in this series that Coyle hasn’t scored a goal. He got the Bruins on the board early in Game 2, scored the second in Boston’s 7-2 rout in Game 3 and tallied a first-period tying goal in what was an eventual 4-2 Game 4 loss.
In order to leapfrog those ahead of him, Coyle will need to continue this prolific run. Realistically, without another two or goals or more in the next game or two, he’s going to end up an also-ran for the award.
4. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues
Tarasenko had a relatively slow start to his post-season. Matter of fact, through the first 13 games, he had five points. Granted, all were goals, but the Blues undoubtedly entered the post-season hoping they would get even more from the powerhouse winger. If it was more they wanted, though, they got it once the Western Conference final began. In six games against the San Jose Sharks, Tarasenko was everywhere, notching three goals and eight points and he hasn’t slowed much in the final. Through four games, he has three goals, 18 shots and he’s averaging nearly 17 minutes per game.
Tarasenko has all the potential in the world to rocket up the list, too. All it might take is one big game, especially with the final now in a first-to-two wins scenario, to make him the frontrunner for the award. If anyone can score in bunches, it’s Tarasenko.
3. Torey Krug, Boston Bruins
Krug was on the Conn Smythe periphery before the final began, but was by no means a top contender. All it took was one big outing to rocket Krug up the list and into contention for the award, though. In Game 3 of the final, in which the Bruins brutalized the Blues, Krug was all over the scoresheet. He had three primary assists, all on the power play, and fired home a power-play goal of his own for good measure. The four-point output was Krug’s best of the post-season and gave him 16 points through 21 games.
Krug is doing a lot of heavy lifting, too. Already averaging 21:28 per game entering the series, his average ice time has leapt by nearly three minutes through the first four games of the final, including monster 25- and 26-minute games in the first two outings, respectively.
2. Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues
Sometimes, the Conn Smythe race comes down to a matter of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, and O’Reilly can answer that by saying he’s scored two goals and four points in four games in the final, with both of the markers coming in a massive Game 4 victory. Not only has O’Reilly found the scoresheet, he’s been working his tail off. His 20:21 ice time average ranks seventh among all skaters in the final and is very nearly a full-minute clear of the next-highest average ice time by any forward. (Marchand at 19:26.)
O’Reilly also has an argument from an overall scoring perspective, as well. Though he trails Marchand for the playoff scoring lead by three points, O’Reilly is tied with Jaden Schwartz for the Blues’ scoring lead at 18 points.
1. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
Rask is the only holdover on this list from the pre-series projections. Not only that, he has retained the No. 1 spot. He has been remarkable throughout the post-season and has posted the playoffs’ best save percentage (.938), goals-against average (1.96) and his two shutouts, both of which came in series-clinching games, lead all netminders. Admittedly, he hasn’t been quite as good in the final – he has a .919 SP in four games – but he has outplayed counterpart Jordan Binnington.
What keeps Rask in top spot, as well, is that his entire body of work has made it such that he will have to be in the conversation for the Conn Smythe regardless of the outcome of the final. Not since the 2002-03 season, when then-Mighty Ducks of Anaheim netminder Jean-Sebastian Giguere was named MVP in a losing effort, has the Conn Smythe gone to a player on the team which lost in the final. Rask has an argument to be the latest.
Honorable Mentions: Brad Marchand (BOS); Alex Pietrangelo (STL); Patrice Bergeron (BOS); Jaden Schwartz (STL)
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