It’s a little early to hand out the Conn Smythe Trophy to the playoff MVP, but here’s the next-best thing.
Team-by-team first round MVPs:
No. 1 Detroit vs. No. 8 Edmonton
Detroit Red Wings: Losing in the first round to the eighth seed is far from the Wings’ typical playoff-penetrating effort; so, there’s only a few players who deserve consideration. Nicklas Lidstrom and Mathieu Schneider had strong stretches, but also were overwhelmed at times by Edmonton’s relentless attack. Steve Yzerman deserves kudos for playing through pain and being a leader until the end (of his career?); Brendan Shanahan provided power-forward panache; and, checker Kirk Maltby supplied some unexpected offense while giving his all at the defensive end.
But, entering the post-season, there was a lot of pressure on young stars Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk to produce as they have in the regular season. Zetterberg did, Datsyuk (who reportedly was playing through some injuries) did not. So, hello Henrik, here’s a playoff MVP award you might not want to start boasting about quite yet.
Edmonton Oilers: Certainly, to pull off an upset over Presidents’ Trophy-winning Detroit, Edmonton needed a full team effort. And the they got that. Especially from Chris Pronger, who answered critics with a playoff performance that, if he can continue the level of play for four rounds, would be worthy of the Conn Smythe. For all of Pronger’s two-way dominance and breakout passing, the fact the ultra-competitive defender wasn’t whistled for a penalty in the first five games may be the most important statistic of the series.
No. 2 Dallas vs. No. 7 Colorado
Dallas Stars: Like Detroit’s Manny Legace, Dallas goaltender Marty Turco is probably starting to develop a complex about winning in the post-season. More accurately, about not winning in the post-season.
Another playoff, another first round ouster for Turco’s Stars, despite the fact he has been a regular season star since 2002. As for star Stars, Jere Lehtinen was the best of a borderline bunch. Mike Modano, Jussi Jokinen and Sergei Zubov also might merit some team MVP mulling. But not much, not when you’re bounced in five games by the seventh seed.
Colorado Avalanche: Move over Patrick Roy, there’s a new French Canadian, ex-Montreal Canadiens goaltender in town. Like Roy did a decade ago, Jose Theodore arrived in Denver late in the season, amid controversy, and then starred in the playoffs. Roy did it for four rounds; Theodore, so far, has done it for one. The Avalanche won three games in overtime, including a 50-save effort by Theodore in which the Avs were outshot at a 2:1 ratio. Consolation MVP goes to (who else?) Joe Sakic.
No. 3 Calgary vs. No. 6 Anaheim
Calgary Flames: Heading into Game 7, the best player for the Flames has been captain Jarome Iginla. His clutch scoring and tireless leadership are inspirational beacons for his teammates to follow. As usual, though, goalie Miikka Kiprusoff’s contributions can’t be discounted.
Anaheim Mighty Ducks: Scott Niedermayer. Scott Niedermayer, Scott Niedermayer, Scott Niedermayer. He won’t be nominated for the Hart Trophy, but he should be.
No. 4 Nashville vs. No. 5 San Jose
Nashville Predators: They lost their MVP when goalie Tomas Vokoun went down to injury a couple of weeks prior to the playoffs. But don’t blame Nashville’s five-game farewell on backup Chris Mason Â– simply, the Preds couldn’t handle the bigger (and better) Sharks. Paul Kariya gave it his mid-1990s best, but even that wasn’t enough.
San Jose Sharks: For all the buzz about first-liners Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo, it was savvy veteran (at 26) Patrick Marleau who led San Jose past the Preds. How else to explain seven (!?!) goals in the first five playoff games?
No. 1 Ottawa vs. No. 8 Tampa Bay
Ottawa Senators: Pick a Senator, any Senator. From first-liners such as Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Martin Havlat, to support players like Mike Fischer and Peter Schaeffer, to big defender Zdeno Chara, to backup goalie Ray Emery almost every Ottawa player can make an MVP claim. But none can make it as convincingly as Wade Redden, who missed one game to attend his mother’s funeral. Redden inspired his teammates by playing through off-ice turmoil, while his on-ice play was sparkling. Redden may be the best outlet passer in the NHL.
Tampa Bay Lightning: The defending Stanley Cup champions were overmatched this time around, but showed the pride and determination that led them to the title in 2004. The Bolts couldn’t match the Sens from top to bottom, but Tampa’s best players Â– Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and especially Martin St-Louis Â– were, indeed, their best players, and that bodes well going forward.
No. 2 Carolina vs. No. 7 Montreal
Carolina Hurricanes: Considering they didn’t start winning until he appeared in goal, the MVP nod has to go to 21-year-old backup goalie Cam Ward, who won three straight outings heading into Game 6. Forwards Rod Brind’Amour and Eric Staal are pacing Carolina’s offense, but it has been the team’s defensive play in the past couple months that has been lacking.
Montreal Canadiens: The Habs have lost all three games since losing their captain, Saku Koivu, who was high-sticked near the eye, so it’s tempting to give the nod to Saku and say this series is over. But that wouldn’t be very fair to Cristobal Huet, the best French goalie the Canadiens have ever had.
No. 3 New Jersey vs. No. 6 New York Rangers
New Jersey Devils: The Devils have won 15 games in a row, so it might be more helpful to pick a non-MVP. And in that case, it must be said that the Pat Verbeek-Kirk Muller-Aaron Broten line has sorely underachieved.
New York Rangers: When they had Jaromir Jagr in the lineup, they lost 6-1 (in Game 1). And when they didn’t have Jagr in the lineup they still lost. New York’s other regular season MVP, goalie Henrik Lundqvist, was a non-factor due to injury. Let’s go with grinding winger Jed Ortmeyer here, as a representative for the team’s hardworking third and fourth lines.
No. 4 Buffalo vs. No. 5 Philadelphia
Buffalo Sabres: Daniel Briere has been the shiftiest of Buffalo’s shifty forwards, exposing Philadelphia’s one-step-slow defensive coverage with his fearless net-driving ways.
Philadelphia Flyers: You could almost see Peter Forsberg put the Flyers on his back in Game 3 as the Swedish superstar led Philadelphia back into the series with a pair of home-ice wins in Games 3 and 4.