Globe on Hockey starts the week with a simple question to those who make their living covering the great frozen game for this organization:
If you had to cast your vote today, who would you pick as the most valuable player of the NHL playoffs?
Columnist Roy MacGregor: It may seem foolish to say following a 6-0 defeat in which he was yanked from the goal after four, but my vote still goes to Jaroslav Halak. No Halak, no Canadiens in the playoffs. No Halak, Ovechkin and Washington are still in the playoffs. No Halak, Sidney Crosby and Pittsburgh are still defending the Stanley Cup. His import cannot be overstated. It is a given rule-of-thumb in hockey that "You only go so far as your goalie takes you" -- and Halak has already taken the Canadiens farther than they had any right to expect this spring.
globesports.com editor Darren Yourk: At one point in my journalism career I spent weekends covering Jr. B hockey in southern Ontario. In a postgame scrum a coach dropped some serious postseason knowledge on me. "Playoff hockey is about three things," he said. "Heart, guts and nuts." I couldn't help but think of that exchange as I watched Vancouver Canucks defenceman Sami Salo take to the ice (gingerly) in Game 6 of the Vancouver - Chicago series, just 48 hours after suffering some sort of catastrophic testicle injury in a most unfortunate Game 5 shot block. We marvel at the warriors who take a pounding night after night in the two-month marathon that is the NHL Playoffs. We applaud the players who take a stick or puck in the face, only to return to the game soon after receiving stitches. I would suggest Salo's willingness to play so soon after his manhood was compromised takes the whole "tape it up and go" attitude to another level. Yes, the fans at GM Place chanted "Balls of steel. Balls of steel," for the courageous Finn, and his groin situation became an Internet phenomenon on Facebook and YouTube, but I believe he deserves even more. He deserves my Conn Smythe vote.
Columnist Eric Duhatschek: In the vast majority of cases, the playoff MVP goes to a member of the Stanley Cup championship team and based on how things look today, you'd have to think the Chicago Blackhawks are the heavy favourites, having won the opener of the conference championship on the road; and getting to face an underdog out of the East, no matter who advances.
The easy choice at the moment is Blackhawks' captain Jonathan Toews, who leads the playoffs in scoring, has accumulated points in 10 consecutive games and is doing enough subtle things - like winning a critical face-off on the game winner Sunday afternoon - to win the award. If Toews can keep this up; and if the Blackhawks can keep this up; then the hardware is unlikely to go elsewhere.
Still, there is always a part of me that thinks the heavy-minute munching defencemen deserve serious consideration - and two in particular during this post-season, the Blackhawks' Duncan Keith and the Flyers' Chris Pronger. Philadelphia surrendered a significant package of prospects and draft choices to acquire Pronger from Anaheim last year; and at times this season, with the Flyers fumbling and stumbling at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, that didn't look like much of a long-term investment. But he has done what he usually does - perk up when the games start to matter. Philadelphia acquired him, knowing that the road to emerging from the Eastern Conference usually involved a stop in Pittsburgh or Washington. It didn't this year, after all the upsets in the East, but no matter who he's played against, Pronger has provided that edgy play on the one side of the equation and the consistent defence on the other. He will be a factor in the discussion, if the Flyers get to the final.
As for Keith, his value is immense, on a team that traded away Cam Barker, one of its depth defencemen, and haven't had much of a return on the deal, after Kim Johnsson went out with a concussion. Brian Campbell's injury, courtesy of Alex Ovechkin, further complicated the Blackhawks' depth issues and forced Joel Quenneville to overplay his top guys, Keith especially. But Keith seems to be cut from the Scott Niedermayer cloth, someone whose performance and production doesn't fall off, even as the minutes mount up. That was him, leading the rush on the game winner Sunday, finding Patrick Sharp open for the tie-breaking goal. On TV, they now call that "activating the defence." Not my favorite new term to enter the hockey vocabulary, but descriptive enough. In the way the game is played today, boxing out on defence and making aggressive plays in the offensive zone is how defencemen make an impact. It is something the Calgary Flames need to stress with Jay Bouwmeester - that if you have the skill and speed to play aggressively in all three zones, sometimes it is better to err on the side of making a play rather than constantly falling back. The L.A. Kings' Drew Doughty has that figured out; and so does Keith. If Toews's play should fall off and Chicago go on to win, Keith should be on a lot of Conn Smythe ballots, a serious candidate for the award.
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