While the games themselves in each of the conference finals were great, there was no Game 7, or even Game 6, drama on which to draw.
The final, however, has all the makings of a classic with great storylines and two of the league’s most-talented squads going head-to-head in a rematch of ‘08.
Most Valuable Player – Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh
Sometimes you’re right, sometimes you’re wrong and boy was I ever wrong about Malkin. After watching Geno in his pre-NHL days, I worried he had a touch of the Kozlov in that, much like Viktor, his size and hyped talent wouldn’t transfer into actual production. Three seasons and 304 points later, I’ve nearly got all the egg off my face. Malkin may never have been better, though, in putting on a one-man show with six goals and nine points in the Carolina sweep. Honorable mentions: M-A Fleury, PIT; Sidney Crosby, PIT
Best Player – Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh
I’m well aware of my Black and Gold sweep of the Round 3 MVP, but spoils must go to a team that dominated the way the Pens did against Carolina. And while a player doesn’t always have to be the best to be the most valuable, the two were synonymous in the conference semis with Malkin. He was dangerous every shift against the Canes and it would be wise for the Wings to spend much of the next two days drawing up a game plan of how to stop this Russian from bearing fruit in the final. Honorable mentions: Henrik Zetterberg, DET; Sidney Crosby, PIT
Top Goalie – Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh
Assuming Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom are healthy, I’m still picking the Red Wings in the final. If the Penguins do upset the defending champs, however, it won’t be because of Crosby or Malkin, it’ll be the play of Fleury. Against Carolina, the 24-year-old was brilliant when he needed to be – especially Games 1 and 4 – and super solid even when he didn’t. If Fleury can steal two or three games against Detroit the way the Ducks’ Jonas Hiller did, the Penguins have the guns to succeed where Anaheim’s offense failed in their seven-game defeat. Honorable mentions: Cam Ward, CAR; Chris Osgood, DET
Top Defenseman – Brad Stuart, Detroit
Tempting to continue the Penguins awards march with Sergei Gonchar, but Stuart deserves a tip of the hat for his play in Nicklas Lidstrom’s absence. Stuart averaged more than 27 minutes per game through the final three contests against the Hawks and while his contribution doesn’t show up on the scoresheet, he was a force at both ends of the ice. Honorable mentions: Sergei Gonchar, PIT; Brian Rafalski, DET
Top Rookie – Darren Helm, Detroit
Want to know just how good the Red Wings are? Helm could only squeeze his way into 16 regular season games this year. He’s matched that number in the playoffs already and you can see the speedy 22-year-old getting better with every game. Helm’s OT goal in Game 5 was obviously huge, but his work on the penalty kill earlier in that tilt – and throughout the series – was just as important. Honorable mentions: Niklas Hjalmarsson, CHI; Jonathan Ericsson, DET
Top Coach – Joel Quenneville, Chicago
The Hawks may have gone extinct quickly, but the series was much closer – Game 4 aside – than the five-game finish would indicate. Three of the five contests were solved in overtime and had Game 2 gone the other way this outcome would have read much differently. Quenneville deserves a lot of credit for keeping his young squad focused, especially when Nikolai Khabibulin went down. Honorable mentions: Dan Bylsma, PIT; Mike Babcock, DET
THN.com’s Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.
Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog normally appears Thursdays.
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