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As I did for Round 1and using six of the 10 we rely on for our annual regular season awards, here are, through my eyes, the top performers from the conference semifinals:

WAYNE GRETZKY AWARD – Most Valuable Player
Jaroslav Halak, Montreal
Two rounds; two MVP honors. I keep hearing how it’s more than just the 24-year-old Slovak who’s driving the Habs bus, but while that may be true to a degree, he’s still more important to the Montreal effort than any other player in the playoffs right now. After getting jacked in Game 1, Halak posted a 1.84 goals against average and .945 save percentage.

Jaroslav Halak, Montreal
The most valuable isn’t always the best, but sometimes it is. And it certainly was in the second round. Halak has found the puck’s-the-size-of-a-beach-ball zone and is getting in the heads of opponents, which is next level (think Dominik Hasek ’99 or Patrick Roy ’93). Remarkable, Tim Thomas-style diving saves have been few and far between because Halak hasn’t needed to make them; he’s reading the play and in perfect position on almost every shot.

Jaroslav Halak, Montreal
See above. A fascinating subplot to Halak's run is the Canadiens' goalie situation heading into this summer. Halak’s circumstance lands him in THN's 12 most intriguing free agents, which Ken Campbell details in the latest issue. Along with regular season co-No. 1 Carey Price, Halak is a restricted free agent who will be looking for a big raise and a guaranteed starting job. Halak’s now clearly become the main man for the Habs, but is GM Pierre Gauthier ready to deal Price (the No. 5 overall pick in ’05) or deal with a possible crowded crease? Could Halak, who may end up in arbitration, be the one who is dealt or will he jump at a big Kontinental League contract?

BOBBY ORR AWARD – Best Defenseman
Chris Pronger, Philadelphia
At 35, the behemoth blueliner is showing no signs of slowing down, leading the NHL in ice time at 29:39 per game (a full 1:30 ahead of second place) and posting 11 points (four goals) in 12 outings. Against Boston, Pronger played more than 27 minutes each contest (save for Game 6 at 26:42). And, perhaps most importantly, the usually snarly Pronger shelved his mean streak, picking up only two minors in the seven games. If the Flyers win the Cup, Pronger will likely get the Conn Smythe he deserved in 2005.

TEEMU SELANNE AWARD – Best First-Year Player
Ville Leino, Philadelphia
Dealt to the Flyers from Detroit for O-K Tollefsen in February, and immediately scratched for six straight contests, the 26-year-old's future was anything but bright. After again being banished to the press box for the first four games of the playoffs, injuries up front to Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter opened the door and the shifty Finn took advantage, putting up seven points in the Boston series, including a pair of assists in Game 7.

Sami Salo, Vancouver
With all the sacrifices, all the shot-blocking and ignoring the pain, how can you not give the nod to the guy who didn't miss a game after an injury that had every man – and probably a lot of women, too – cringing in sympathy. It looked at times like the big Finn could hardly skate, indicating just how much pain he must have been enduring. The effort, in the end, was for naught, but respect must be given.'s Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action, 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 managing editor of The Hockey News. His blog appears weekly.

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