The 2014 Stanley Cup Final matchup is set, but the Conn Smythe Trophy race is just heating up.
There are many deserving candidates on the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings, and even though several forwards are in the discussion, this Cup Final could produce the first defenseman to win playoff MVP since Scott Niedermayer in 2007. Since 2001, only two D-men have won the award.
The Kings and Rangers play Game 1 of the series Wednesday night in Los Angeles. In the meantime, let’s take a look at an updated ranking of the top Conn Smythe Trophy candidates through the first three rounds of the playoffs.
1a) Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
“The King” leads the playoffs with a .928 save percentage and his 2.03 GAA was the highest among the four starting goaltenders in the conference finals. Lundqvist was outstanding against the Canadiens, but his success this postseason goes beyond the East Final.
Lundqvist has given his team a chance to win 18 of the 21 games he’s played, and he’s allowed just two goals or fewer in 10 of the Rangers’ last 13 games. He’s making clutch third-period saves, bailing out his defensemen after poor turnovers and was a major factor in New York’s 91 percent penalty killing rate against Montreal.
If the Rangers win the Cup, it would be a gigantic surprise if Lundqvist wasn’t awarded the Conn Smythe.
1b) Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
Doughty outplayed likely Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith in the conference finals and made a strong case to be called the best D-man in the league. He led all skaters with 28:42 of ice time per game in the West Final against the Chicago Blackhawks, while adding seven points (three goals, four assists) in the seven games. He tops all D-men with 16 points in 21 games and also is excelling defensively against top competition (evidenced by his 29.5 QoC rating). His 45 blocked shots are fourth among D-men.
Doughty also gets nearly 6:00 of ice time per game on special teams and ranks first among D-men with nine power-play points.
He’s already won the award for best post-series celebration:
3) Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
Kopitar is best known as a shutdown defense forward, and he’s excelled defensively against many of the elite centers in the postseason (Joe Thornton in Round 1, Ryan Getzlaf in Round 2, Jonathan Toews in Round 3). But the veteran center also is providing consistent offensive production and leads the playoffs in scoring with 24 points in 21 games, while ranking at the top in assists (19) as well.
The top-line forward has developed remarkable chemistry with linemate Marian Gaborik, who leads all skaters with 12 goals. He’s also performed at a high level in elimination games with 11 points in seven games. Put simply, Kopitar is dominating in all three zones while coming up clutch in late-game situations.
4) Marian Gaborik, Los Angeles Kings
The aforementioned Gaborik leads all players with 12 goals, which includes the third-period equalizer in Game 7 against Chicago. The 32-year-old winger has scored at least three goals in each series, and tallied three goals in the final four games of the West Final. His offensive success is even more impressive when you factor in that he’s excelling against elite defensive players (evidenced by his team-leading 30.1 QoC rating). Gaborik also is helping the Kings maintain consistent puck possession with a 52.2 corsi-for percentage.
5) Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers
Few players have performed at a higher level than McDonagh since Round 2. He’s tallied 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in his last 10 games (including 10 points in the conference finals), while also playing quality defense against opposing teams’ top forwards.
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McDonagh is doing a little bit of everything for the Rangers. He’s providing consistent scoring production, shutting down top forwards, playing an important role on special teams and contributing to the team’s puck-possession. Expect him to receive plenty of ice time against the Kopitar-Gaborik duo in the Cup Final.
Advanced stats via ExtraSkater.com