The Blackhawks beat the Ducks 5-3 in Game 7 Saturday to move on to the Stanley Cup Final against Tampa Bay, and if they manage to beat the Lightning in the fourth round, Chicago will have more than one player worthy of being named the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Here are the Hawks’ top three Conn Smythe candidates through the Western Conference Final:
3. Jonathan Toews. The Blackhawks captain had the first two goals of Game 7 Saturday to remain tied for second with Duncan Keith for Chicago's playoff point total lead, underscoring his status as one of the best big-game NHLers alive today. He’s also the team’s faceoff monster, taking an NHL-best 403 draws in this post-season and winning 218 of them. Toews is a menace to impact the score at both ends of the arena, and few players can impose their will on a game the way he does; without him, Chicago likely would’ve been eliminated long before the third round.
2. Patrick Kane. When Kane returned early from a broken clavicle, some wondered if the star winger would show any signs of rust. Seventeen games, 10 goals and 20 points later, we can confirm there’s not a speck of rust anywhere on his person. The 26-year-old has nearly as many game-winning goals (three) in these playoffs as he did in 61 regular-season games this year when he recorded five game-winners; he also had a game-high three points (all assists) in Game 7 Saturday. There’s no more dangerous player with the puck in the NHL, and Chicago is a threat to score every moment he’s on the ice.
1. Duncan Keith. Heading into Game 7 Saturday, Keith was averaging a whopping 31:49 of ice time on average through 16 playoff games. He also pitched in on the points front – and with a pair of assists in Game 7 Saturday, Keith set a new career best of 18 points in a single post-season (a mark he'd previously set in Chicago’s first modern championship run in 2010 when he had 17 points in 22 contests). With the Hawks’ defense so obviously thin, the organization needed Keith to elevate his game. And that’s all we’ve seen from the two-time Norris Trophy winner. He's essential to their Western Conference championship, and another strong showing in the Final would lock up his first Conn Smythe.