The Stanley Cup finals are all of six days away, and the Conn Smythe Trophy race is starting to heat up.
Among the Los Angeles Kings, New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers, there are plenty of early MVP candidates in these playoffs, with the list of favourites changing by the night.
Because of how low scoring these playoffs have been, the three goaltenders remaining are all solid candidates: Jonathan Quick, Martin Brodeur and Henrik Lundqvist.
Then you have the top scorers like Dustin Brown, Ilya Kovalchuk and Brad Richards who would be in the mix with strong showings in the finals.
Taking into account the fact the Kings have moved on and the Devils are up 3-2 in their series, here are my picks for the Conn Smythe Trophy front-runners:
- Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings captain was the subject of trade buzz late in the year but has been a force through 14 games, putting up seven goals and 16 points to give him a share of second in the scoring race. He is among the leaders in a host of other categories, too: game winning goals (three), hits (67), plus-minus (plus-13) and is averaging nearly 21 minutes a night (including four a game on the power play and two a game on the penalty kill). He has, in short, done it all.
- Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Many of these lists will have Quick as the front-runner, and with good reason. His .946 save percentage is the best ever for a goaltender with eight or more wins in a playoff run, and he's been beaten just 22 times in 14 games. If the Kings win quickly in the finals, it's probably his to lose.
- Zach Parise, New Jersey As the games have gotten bigger, the Devils captain has made more and more of an impact, including leading his team in scoring in Round 3 against the Rangers and providing plenty of energy in all three of their wins. His 17 playoff games matches how many he had played in the last four years combined, so this is new territory.
- Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles The Slovenian star isn't far behind Brown in terms of the impact he's had for the Kings. Kopitar has benefitted from teammate Mike Richards picking up some of the tough defensive assignments but leads the team in some advanced statistics like Corsi and is playing big minutes on both special teams. Underrated an an all-around player - but that's changing.
- Henrik Lundqvist, New York If the Rangers were up 3-2 in their series, he'd be higher on this list. King Henrik has had to win plenty of games where his team struggles to score, and his .933 save percentage is terrific compared to anyone not named Quick.
- Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey Came alive in a big way in Round 2 against the Flyers with seven points in four games despite playing through a bad back injury that kept him out of Game 2 of that series. He has a point a game and is logging huge minutes (23:25 a game) to shed his reputation as only a regular season performer. And there's an inspirational back story, too.
- Dan Girardi, New York Rangers stay-at-homer leads all players in these playoffs in minutes played and has somehow become an offensive producer on a team that desperately needs them. Girardi is tied for ninth in postseason scoring with 11 points in 19 games after posting 29 all season and is the shot block king on a team that puts a premium on getting in front of pucks.
- Bryce Salvador, New Jersey The unlikeliest name on this list by a wide margin. The Devils nondescript defensive defenceman has been picking up points left and right in these playoffs, but more importantly has been mostly air tight in his own end. There's a fluke factor here for sure, but going into Game 5, he had been on the ice for three times as many 5-on-5 goals for as against. A great story after he missed the entire year last season with a concussion.
- Brad Richards, New York The Rangers top scorer has been oh-so-silent in the Eastern Conference finals and is letting whatever MVP candidacy he had slip away. But he led the team in scoring in Round 1 and had four goals against the Capitals in Round 2. The fact he has won the Conn Smythe before doesn't hurt either.
- Martin Brodeur, New Jersey A long shot given his team is winning really without him dominating games, Brodeur has nonetheless been competent with a .921 save percentage and some big stops against the Rangers at key times in games. That he is 40 years old and doing this may be enough to sway voters if he has a good showing in the finals.
Honourable mentions: Travis Zajac, Mike Richards, Drew Doughty