We're down to the final two teams of this Stanley Cup playoff season, which means the Conn Smythe race is in sharp focus. Gone are the bids of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, who would have topped the Blackhawks' list, as is Carey Price, who was knocked out early in the Eastern Conference final, but could have made an MVP bid had the Canadiens won and had he returned.
These rankings are based on who I think is most likely to win the award when the Stanley Cup winner is determined. And before we get started, I did not forget about Jonathan Quick: barring four shutouts, his .906 SP and 2.86 GAA just haven't been enough to enter the race - not when you consider the many other Kings to choose from.
Here are my top 10 Conn Smythe candidates. Who are yours?
1. Anze Kopitar
Since we're picking the Kings to win the Stanley Cup, my Conn Smythe favorite heading into the final is the top Los Angeles nominee. By leading all playoff scorers with 24 points in 21 games and leading all Kings forwards with an average 2:08 of shorthanded time per game, Kopitar's two-way game has shone. So much so, in fact, he's now entering the Patrice Bergeron-Jonathan Toews stratosphere of playoff performers. One more productive series from Kopitar at both ends of the ice - and a Kings Cup triumph - could lead to the first Slovenian Conn Smythe winner.
2. Henrik Lundqvist
As good as Lundqvist has been for the Rangers, this won't be a J-S Giguere year - New York needs to win the Cup for Lundqvist to be named playoff MVP. Other Rangers could make up some ground on their goalie with an influential performance in the final, but even then, it's hard to imagine any other Blueshirt winning the Conn Smythe this season. Lundqvist has been a rock, especially in the two Game 7s and last round's clinching Game 6, and his 5-on-5 save percentage is 25 points better than Jonathan Quick's. If the Rangers win, odds are Lundqvist will take home the MVP - should he be the first to receive the Cup as well?
3. Marian Gaborik
Kings GM Dean Lombardi acquired Gaborik at the trade deadline for one reason: to add scoring punch. And, boy, has Gaborik ever held up his end of the bargain. The Slovak has scored in nine of Los Angeles' 21 games this spring for a grand total of 12 goals, which leads all playoff scorers. The scoring spike the Kings have enjoyed since pickup up Gaborik is similar to the one they got when Jeff Carter was acquired at the 2012 deadline - only this time Los Angeles is scoring more as a team. With a strong final and a few more key goals, Gaborik will make a strong case for the Conn Smythe. Who'd a thunk it?
4. Martin St-Louis
The former Lightning received a lot of negative press for his trade demand earlier this season, but no one in New York gives a damn at this point. With 13 points in 20 games, St-Louis is tied with Derek Stepan for the Rangers' scoring lead and most of that has been accomplished in two series. St-Louis scored only two points in the Pittsburgh series - though they came in Games 6 and 7 - but in the other two series, he was on the score sheet more often than not. St-Louis leads all Ranger forwards with an 18:59 average ice time and if he manages to earn the Conn Smythe, it could also clinch a Hall of Fame career.
5. Jeff Carter
In 21 games this post-season, Carter has been kept off the score sheet only six times. Prior to being shut out in Game 6 against Chicago, Carter was on a six-game point scoring streak, but he picked it up again in Game 7 with a crucial first period goal that got the Kings on the board to make it 2-1. The Kings' OG (Original Goal-getter) is second in playoff scoring with 22 points in 21 games, which is already well past the 13 points he accumulated in Los Angeles' 2012 championship run.
6. Drew Doughty
Averaging 27:50 of ice time and leading all defensemen with 16 points in 21 games, Doughty is at the peak of his game and looking like the best defenseman in the NHL right now. He had three multi-point games against the Blackhawks and only once played less than 26 minutes in a game against them. Doughty has the ability to will the Kings to a win through his strong defensive play, but also because of his ability to control the offense and send it up strong the other way. To win the Cup, it seems you need to have a game-breaker on the blueline - and no defenseman is better than Doughty is right now.
7. Derek Stepan
As far as the Rangers go, Stepan would have to be neck-and-neck with St-Louis since the two have the same number of points, very similar ice time totals, and start their shifts in the defensive zone a comparative amount of times. This is the best playoff performance the 23-year-old has had in four tries and a good series would bump him ahead of veteran St-Louis in these rankings.
8. Justin Williams
By now, we all know what Williams' strength is: Game 7s. Against Chicago, his two-point performance Sunday night made him the all-time point leader in Game 7s, surpassing Doug Gilmour. This post-season, Williams has a grand total of three points in the first three games of a series (three points in nine games), which means he has 15 points in the final four games of each series (15 points in 12 games). Talk about clutch: Williams has scored two goals and five points in the three Game 7s Los Angeles has been in this year.
9. Ryan McDonagh
He hasn't been as consistently dominant as Doughty has been for the Kings this post-season, but McDonagh has gotten better as the playoffs have gone along. He didn't record a single point in the first 10 games against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but in his past 10 games, McDonagh has 13 points. He's one of four Rangers averaging 20-plus minutes of ice time per night and his 25:11 average is significantly higher than No. 2 Dan Girardi. Hard to believe New York acquired him for Scott Gomez back in the day. A Conn Smythe is a long shot for McDonagh at this point, but he deserves a nod in these rankings.
10. Brad Richards
A summer buyout candidate, can you imagine if Richards somehow came away with his second Conn Smythe Trophy? Another long shot, most of Richards' 11 points came in the first round against Philadelphia when he was humming along as a point-per-game player. He's only scored five points in the 13 games since, but don't be surprised if the vet steps up again on the biggest stage.