In The Hockey News’ Playoff Preview issue, we ran a story that compared two potential Conn Smythe Trophy contenders from a pair of clubs considered to be Stanley Cup favorites. The players? The Tampa Bay Lightning’s Steven Stamkos and Winnipeg Jets’ Mark Scheifele. Swing and a miss.
As the post-season wears on, though, it’s worth keeping track of which players will remain in the race, which Stamkos and Scheifele decidedly will not given, you know, both have packed their bags, cleaned out their lockers and are heading home for a summer that will be far longer than either expected. With eight teams remaining, here’s the top pick from each team whose playoff life hasn’t yet been extinguished:
Boston Bruins:Brad Marchand was everywhere in the opening round against the Maple Leafs, including a season-saving two-goal, three-point performance in Game 6 in Toronto. When he wasn’t hitting the scoresheet, he was throwing the body, getting in the middle of scrums and generally frustrating opponents, as only he can do. He toed the line incredibly well, too, and wasn’t whistled for a single penalty in the first round. Add in his two-way play, which includes time on the penalty kill and important 5-on-5 minutes, and Marchand is the Bruins’ frontrunner through one round.
Carolina Hurricanes: It’s not all about offense with Jaccob Slavin, but his nine points in the seven-game series victory over the Washington Capitals certainly doesn’t hurt his Conn Smythe case. Where Slavin really makes his mark on the game is his night-in, night-out defensive consistency. The Hurricanes can rely on him more than they can any other rearguard, and there’s a good argument to be made that he’s one of the most underrated defensemen in the entire NHL. If he continues to play as he did through Round 1, he could step into the spotlight and earn well-deserved recognition as a true top-pairing defenseman.
Colorado Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon is making his case to be included in any and all discussions of the five-best players in the world. Fresh off finishing second in Hart Trophy voting last season, the Avalanche pivot had yet another outstanding regular season and followed it up with the kind of first round that left the Calgary Flames wondering how to defend him. His three goals and eight points are second among all Colorado skaters behind Mikko Rantanen, but make no mistake who’s leading the charge for the Avalanche. This is MacKinnon’s team, and if the Avalanche keep this up, the Conn Smythe will be his to lose.
Columbus Blue Jackets: The easy choice is generally the scoring leader or the goaltender, and while Matt Duchene and Sergei Bobrovsky have played incredibly well through the first round and into Game 1 of the second, Seth Jones is proving why he was a pre-season favorite to win the Norris Trophy. Not only is the Blue Jackets blueliner leading his team with upwards of 26 minutes of ice time per outing, he’s contributed in a big way from the back end with two goals and six points. His first goal of the post-season was the game-winner in Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning and he had assists on both Columbus goals in Game 1 against Boston.
Dallas Stars: Do we have to pick just one? The entire top line has been fantastic. So has the blueline, led by John Klingberg, Esa Lindell and Miro Heiskanen. But Ben Bishop is the Stars’ backbone, he came up big throughout the opening round and after putting a Vezina Trophy-caliber regular season, he has an excellent .937 save percentage through seven post-season outings. Yes, Game 1 against the Blues wasn’t Bishop’s best, but his .945 SP through the first round played a big part in Dallas stunning the Central Division-leading Nashville Predators. As Bishop goes, so will go the Stars.
New York Islanders: Back-to-back goaltenders, but because they’re the right picks, not just the easy ones. The comeback story Robin Lehner has been authoring this season borders on ridiculous, exceptional to the level that it’d be eye-rolling were it a Hollywood production. After putting himself in the Vezina conversation with his regular season play, Lehner posted a stunning .956 SP in the Islanders’ sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Included in that is a .962 SP on high-danger shots against, a .964 SP and 3.79 GSAA at five-a-side, marks that rank first, second and second among all playoff netminders.
San Jose Sharks: Logan Couture had little to prove when it came to his status as a playoff performer. Over the past three seasons, he’s mustered 16 goals and 45 points in 40 games, so his case as a big-game player is cut and dried. As it turns out, though, Couture appears to have designs on being mentioned among the best of the best when it comes to post-season heroics. He registered six goals and eight points through seven games in the opening round, including two massive power play goals in the Game 7 thriller against the Vegas Golden Knights. Those tallies alone vault him to the front of the pack in San Jose.
St. Louis Blues: It’s not so much that Alex Pietrangelo is leading the Blues in scoring – which he is with seven points, all assists, in seven games – as it is that he’s logging heavy minutes against top competition and keeping the opposition’s very best at bay. His average ice time of 24:28 is more than two minutes clear of the Blues’ next-highest minute-logger, Colton Parayko at 22:22, and Pietrangelo has maintained a healthy 57.1 goals for percentage at 5-on-5 and a 60 percent rate at all strengths. St. Louis’ 2.71 goals per game are the fewest of any team left standing, so Pietrangelo’s play, as well as that of the entire Blues defense, has gone a long way.
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