The Stanley Cup Finals are over halfway done and the Penguins find themselves up 3-1 in the series. Each game has, at some point, been a one goal game in the 3rd period, so the Penguins are somewhat fortunate to be in this position.
However, it’s time to focus on one great playoff tradition, the crowning of the playoffs MVP and the award of the Conn Smythe Trophy. Each team has a few options and today we’re going to talk about the three front-runners from each team playing in this championship series.
The Penguins have scored less leading up to the final, but still have plenty of offensive punch. Leading the charge and the Conn Smythe conversation on this side is none other than Phil Kessel. Kessel leads the Penguins in scoring and goals with 10 G – 11 A – 21 P.
The line he is on, HBK, has become so ubiquitous they’re selling shirts and sandwiches are named for them. It’s hardly considered the third line to the point where Sullivan and his players have needed clarification on which line reporters are asking about. They’re producing at a rate that’s unreal and Kessel is leading the charge. He’s been flat out fantastic this playoffs (making his omission from Team USA’s World Cup of hockey roster all the stranger) when the stakes have been the highest. He’s the Penguins front runner, and boy, don’t you think Toronto loves that?
Jones has been mighty good this final round of the playoffs but make no mistake Matt Murray has been just as integral to the Pittsburgh Penguins. His save percentage and goals against are much less gaudy but keep in mind he’s also only just turned 22 a couple weeks ago. This is a kid who has played more in the Stanley Cup Playoffs than he has in the NHL regular season.
He won the Penguins two or three games in the Capitals series almost single handedly. He held the fort in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. Matt Murray may have a lower save percentage than Martin Jones, but a .925 sv% is still what could be considered elite.
When the Penguins won in 2009, Evgeni Malkin won the Conn Smythe. That year Sidney Crosby had a very strong case to win as well, but was just beaten out by his teammate. In 2016, it looks likely this will happen again with teammates Kessel and Murray getting a lot of attention. However, Sidney Crosby’s importance to this run has not been completely unseen and there is still a chance he could win.
In Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final he scored the overtime game winner. Then in Game 3 he scored a regulation time game winner. And in Game 6? Yeah, he scored that one as well. In the Final he helped set up the play that would win Game 2 in overtime. These goals have come along with countless set-ups, tip-ins, brilliant plays and passes that don’t get points on the scoresheet. It’s hard to argue he hasn’t earned it. In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, the Penguins with Crosby’s line on the ice had 100% possession in the first period. Meaning that not one single shot was fired on Matt Murray with the Crosby unit on the ice at that time. That kind of absurd two way play may just get him one of the few trophies he’s never won in his career.
San Jose Sharks
Jones has faced 35 more shots in this series and let in just three more goals than Penguins goalie Matt Murray. In game three during regulation and overtime, he stopped 40 of 42 shots. The most recent winner of the Conn Smythe from a Stanley Cup-losing team was goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere of the Ducks back in 2003. If the Sharks come back to win it all, it will be because Jones probably stole a couple of games down the stretch.
He’s kept the Sharks in it when they were out. And he’s stolen a game for his team already. There’s no doubt he is the clear front runner for the Sharks with his .925 save percentage (sv%) in three games. In fact, his worst round was actually the first where he posted a .912 sv%, but it hardly mattered as Kings starter Jonathan Quick posted a sub-900 sv% in the same round. He’s upped his game every round and so far has been the Sharks strongest Final performer, even though he wasn’t particularly sharp in Game 4.
In the early part of the playoffs, they named a cat that lived in the SAP center for him. As the rounds have progressed, though, Joe Pavelski has quickly racked up the points for San Jose. Pavelski’s playoffs production currently sits at 13G – 9A – 22P, or second in team scoring and first in team goal scoring (which are also the same marks for the overall playoffs for all players).
He’s been the key cog in the Sharks offensive machine. And make no mistake, the team in teal, who were the best team offensively in this playoffs year, depend on him quite a bit. Pavelski may be behind Jones as the favorite, but not by much. You need someone to score so you can win and for the most part this post season that’s been Pavelski.
If the Sharks are going to stage a comeback, they’re going to need their captain to have a couple on monster games on the scoresheet.
He looks like Chewbacca and his son made headlines when he brought him out at the NHL All Star Game this past January. Brent Burns is a character for sure. But Burns is also one of the most important members of the Western Conference Finalists.
When the San Jose Sharks are at their best, Brent Burns is unloading his heavy shot from the point. And he’s the dark horse third choice for San Jose’s Conn Smythe winner. Burns used to be a forward. It’s one of the most notable things about him. As such, his offensive skills are much more developed than the average defenseman’s. He never hesitates to join the rush and this post season is third on the Sharks in points, with 22 points from the blueline. His 6G – 16A – 22 P would be impressive from a forward and is more than any single player on the Penguins this postseason. He’s been big in crucial moments for the team making their first Stanley Cup Final appearance and could be their playoffs MVP.