With the second round of the playoffs wrapped up and only four teams remaining, we take a look at the leading candidates for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
5. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
Perhaps the biggest reason the Capitals got the monkey off their back and defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 2 was that Braden Holtby outplayed his counterpart, Matt Murray. He’ll need to do the same against Tampa Bay Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy if the Caps are to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
Holtby is coming off the worst regular season of his career, but he’s making up for it in a big way this postseason.
4. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
The Bolts have won eight games so far in the playoffs and Kucherov has scored in five of them, notching the game-winning tally on three occasions. However, after picking up 10 points against a relatively easy first-round opponent in the New Jersey Devils, Kucherov’s production tailed off a bit in the second round against a better Boston Bruins team, which is why he’s somewhat low on this list as Tampa Bay’s representative.
3. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
Ovechkin still managed to be productive during the Capitals’ playoff failures, so it’s not surprising that he’s been playing at an extremely high level during the franchise’s deepest postseason run this century.
Arguments can be made that Holtby or Evgeny Kuznetsov have been Washington’s most valuable players this postseason, but the Caps march to the beat of Ovechkin’s drum. He’s the heart and soul of the team, which he leads in both goals and points in these playoffs.
2. Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets
The most impressive part about Scheifele’s spectacular performance this spring is that nine of his 11 goals have come away from home, including an NHL-record seven road goals in one series against Nashville – not exactly an easy place to play. He was also clutch when it mattered most in Winnipeg’s Game 7 win over the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Predators, finding the twine twice.
1. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights
Anyone who disagrees with ranking Fleury at the top of this list probably hasn’t watched more than a minute of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He’s been nothing short of sensational, and has single-handedly stolen four wins. If Vegas is going to continue its miraculous run all the way to the final, Fleury will be the reason why.
And while Scheiefle has been remarkable, Fleury’s had a greater impact on the direct outcomes of games, giving him the edge.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)