2010 Stanley Cup Finals: Who's the Conn Smythe favorite?

As we gear up for the Stanley Cup finals, we start the incredibly
premature breakdowns looking at which players might be the early
favorites for the Conn Smythe.

The Chicago Blackhawks and the
Philadelphia Flyers have each had players step it up and take their game
to the next level, providing the edge each team needed to advance to
the Stanley Cup finals.

I know that we focus a lot on what happens in the finals, but the
Conn Smyth is an award given to the MVP of the entire playoffs. Of
course, a player can’t go super cold in the Cup finals and be expected
to win, so I guess all of this is dependent on what happens in the
Stanley Cup
finals anyway.

Here’s the top three MVP candidates for both

Philadelphia Flyers

Richards; 6 goals, 15 assists, plus-6 

The captain of the
Flyers is leading his team in points and assists and early in the
postseason his leadership helped to give this team the confidence needed
to take out the Devils and the Bruins. He set the tone early for the
Flyers and the path they would take in the playoffs, and his leadership
has continued to be invaluable.

Yet he has just four points in
the past five games, and only scored once in the series win against
Montreal. He had a monster game in Game 5, but was far from the
offensive powerhouse he looked like he might become to start the

Danny Briere; 9 goals, 9 assists, plus-4

leads his team in playoff goals and in game-winning goals (4) and is
the leading goal-scorer among all remaining players in the playoffs.
Something just seemed to click with Briere in the playoffs, despite
being what many considered perhaps the most frustrating player on the
Flyers in the regular season.

Like Richards, Briere went a bit
cold against Montreal and that could be held against him. Despite going
cold, that he’s still the leading scorer between these two teams (and is
tied for the lead in game-winning goals) just goes to show exactly how
good he was in the first two rounds.

Claude Giroux; 8 goals,
9 assists, plus-10

Giroux has been instrumental in the
Flyers’ success and has quietly racked up some great numbers. Leads all
remaining players in plus/minus, leads the Flyers in shot percentage and
has just four penalty minutes in 17 games.


He’s a
smart, yet physical and defensive player on a team known for it’s
physicality and dumbness from time to time. That’s what is most
important on a long playoff run like this one, a player to keep the team
grounded. That’s what Giroux has been for the Flyers.

Just missed: Chris Pronger, Brian Boucher, Michael Leighton


Jonathan Toews, 7 goals, 19 assists,

The player that was denied a Selke this past season
is leading all players in the playoffs with 19 asists and 26 points,
with just four penalty minutes in 16 games. He has a point in 13
straight playoff games, including one monster performance against
Vancouver with a hat trick and five points.

While he doesn’t have a
ton of goals, he’s been instrumental in nearly every major goal scored
by the Hawks this postseason. Forget the stats, just watching Toews on
the ice you can easily see just how well he’s playing. He dominates
nearly every shift, and has been able to not only be a defensive
shutdown specialist but also become the best playmaking center in the
playoffs. Better than Henrik Sedin, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and
every other star that’s no longer in the playoffs.

Byfuglien; 8 goals, 2 assists, minus-3

Big Buff leads the
Hawks in goals and game-winning goals, but has just two assists and
doesn’t have the best plus/minus you’d want from an MVP candidate. Yet
there’s no doubting just how much he’s done for the Hawks, not just in
scoring some tremendous goals but with his attitude and approach as

Byfuglien has used his combination of size and skill to
frustrate the opposition all postseason, getting Roberto Luongo and then
Evgeni Nabokov off their game, crashing the net and wreaking havoc at
every turn. The Blackhawks were talented last season but were
disappointed against the Red Wings. This is generally the same team as
last year, but Byfuglien’s is the the performance that has put the Hawks
over the top this season.

Antti Niemi; 12-4-0, 2.33 GAA,
.921 save %, 2 shutouts

He’s been incredible. He’s playing
the best he ever has for the Chicago Blackhawks, and while it’s tough
to say “they wouldn’t be here without him” he certainly gave the Hawks
the confidence they would need he can be relied upon to steal some wins
in the postseason.

The Blackhawks’ normally solid defense fell
apart a bit against the Sharks, allowing 91 shots in two games; Niemi
allowed just three goals in those two games and lead his team to two
closely played one-goal games. He’s been the difference in net that the
Hawks were hoping they’d have for a long postseason run.

Just missed: Patrick Kane, Dave Bolland, Brent Seabrook

The favorite:

Unfortunately for the Flyers, right now this award comes down to two of the Blackhawks players. The Flyers have been able to win with incredible team efforts and big performances up and down the roster, but the Blackhawks have two players that have outperformed not just their own teammates, but the rest of the playoff field as well.

Of course, the decision won’t be made until after the Stanley Cup finals. Projecting Jonathan Toews and Antti Niemi forward, you have to think that right now this is Toews’ award to lose. There is no doubt just how dominant he has been at times, as he’s perfectly balanced his game between penalty killing specialist and other-worldly playmaking center. He’s riding a 13-game point streak and it doesn’t seem like there’s going to be anything to slow him down anytime soon.

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    Rocket Richard race: Jets’ Patrik Laine to miss time with bruised foot

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    The Winnipeg Jets received some good news about Patrik Laine on Thursday. After leaving Tuesday’s win over the Los Angeles Kings after blocking an Alec Martinez shot, the 19-year-old Finnish sniper could miss only between four and 14 days, according to head coach Paul Maurice.

    “There’s nothing broken and he’s got a bruise,” he said. “When he gets his foot in the boot and feels comfortable, he’ll be back playing.”

    That Laine isn’t expected to miss any time once the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin next month is great news for the Jets, who are pretty much locked into that No. 2 seed in the Central Division. What’s a shame is that this injury could derail his chances at the Rocket Richard Trophy.

    With nine games to go in the regular season, Laine is one goal back (44-43) of Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, who have also played 73 games. The Jets forward began a scoring surge in the middle of February that’s resulted in 18 goals in his last 16 games, vaulting him up the list of the NHL’s top goal scorers and right on the heels of Ovechkin.

    Maurice emphasized that they’re going to take their time in letting Laine heal. He’s not only a huge threat at even strength but also on a third-ranked power play (23.3 percent) that has seen him score 19 times with the extra man. No use rushing him back until he’s 100 percent ready to go and can continue to be dangerous once the playoffs begin.

    “We don’t know how quick these things drain. It’s not really about pain tolerance. We’ll give it a few days,” he said. “We want him to be able to skate, we want him to be able to play and in the situation that we’re in, we don’t want him hobbling around the ice. We want him to be able to move pretty comfortably, so we’ll take as much time as we need until we get to that point. I just can’t give you the day.”

    With files from Scott Billeck


    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

    Stoneman Douglas hockey team now aiming for national title

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    The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School hockey team begin their quest for a national title on Friday afternoon at the USA Hockey High School Nationals in Plymouth, Minnesota.

    In February, 11 days after a gunman killed 17 and injured 14 others on the Parkland, Florida campus, the team went out and won the Statewide Amateur Hockey of Florida High School State Championship tournament, earning their place at nationals.

    The Eagles get started Friday afternoon where they’ll play three round-robin games against teams from Colorado, Minnesota and Indiana, with the top two from their division advancing to the quarterfinals.

    The team flew to Plymouth in style, thanks to the Florida Panthers, who arranged for a charter flight to take them to Minnesota. It was another gesture from the NHL club who earlier this month invited the Eagles to practice at BB&T Center and spend some time with the players in the locker room. They also got to hang out with the Stanley Cup.

    The hockey community rallied around the Stoneman Douglas kids in the wake of the tragedy. In the Panthers’ first home game after the Feb. 14 shooting, goaltender Roberto Luongo, who has children in the Parkland school system, delivered an emotional pre-game speech to the crowd. A few days later, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who attended the school for two years, met with the team after a game. Craig Anderson, a Parkland resident, invited them to be his guests last week when the Ottawa Senators were in town.

    In the days following the shooting, the Stoneman Douglas players discussed whether they should continue their season. They met and decided to keep playing to honor of the fallen 17.

    “I don’t think anyone had in mind that they didn’t want to go,” said freshman Adam Hauptman via Red Line Editorial. “Every kid felt pretty much the same. It was either going to be that everyone said yes or no. Everyone wanted to get out and bring something back to celebrate with.”

    Before they played in the state title game last month, there was a moment when the players realized there were 17 of them on the roster. And when they won the championship, they decided to take their medals back to Stoneman Douglas High School and place them around each of the 17 memorials.

    Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

    Win or lose this weekend, the Stoneman Douglas team has made their community proud and helped in a healing process that will go on for some time.

    “That tournament wasn’t for us, it was all for them,” said senior forward Joey Zenobi in a TSN Original released this week. “That’s what we had to play for — for our school, for our community, for the victims, for the families, for everyone.”


    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

    No Kane, no problem for Panarin in Columbus


    After the trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Brandon Saad back to Chicago, many wondered if Panarin could produce at a high level without Patrick Kane. In hindsight, maybe there should have been just as many worries about how much Kane would lose in Panarin’s absence.*

    Panarin, 26, really forced his strong debut season with the Blue Jackets during his last game. He generated a hat trick and an assist as the Blue Jackets won their ninth game in a row by beating the Rangers, giving him 15 points during that span.

    To give you an idea of how hot Panarin has been, only Mikko Rantanen has more points (16) during the last nine games, while “The Bread Man” matches Nathan MacKinnon‘s 15 points. Panarin brings quite the streak into tonight’s game against the Florida Panthers, who have a ton on the line.

    Overall, you can dice up Panarin’s 68 points in 74 games in some interesting ways. More directly, he’s currently tied with Jamie Benn and Patrik Laine for 25th place in points, just two behind Kane. Panarin scored 77 points as a rookie and 74 last season, so he’s clearly not wholly dependent upon number 88.

    It also sounds like Panarin is presenting a positive influence on the Blue Jackets, who boast some interesting young scorers who could really push them to a higher level if they pan out.

    Oliver Bjorkstrand stands as one of the most intriguing examples. He’s a guy who’s had a knack for scoring at other levels, yet it remains to be seen if he can be a difference-maker in the NHL. The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline recently reported (sub required) that Panarin’s providing a strong example to Bjorkstrand, in particular.

    “The Bread Man” stands to Bjorkstrand as a player who can get it done despite modest size.

    “He’s obviously really talented, has a ton of skill. But it’s his work ethic, how hard he is on pucks,” Bjorkstrand said. “He wins almost every battle he’s in, a lot of times against guys that are a lot bigger than him. But he has the determination to come away with the puck.”

    The numbers seem to back up that “strong on the puck” talk.

    Panarin’s possession stats have actually improved with the Blue Jackets, with his numbers standing out even more relative to his teammates. While John Tortorella is still rolling him out in advantageous situations (65.2 percent of his shifts begin in the offensive zone), that’s a big drop from his 78.8 percent mark in Chicago.

    So, in a way, Panarin is proving himself to be possibly even more valuable with Columbus, as he’s less of a specialist and more of a balanced driver of play.

    Panarin is a few strides short of Hart Trophy talk, but he’s done about as much as anyone could reasonably ask to prove that he’s a legitimate top-line talent, and a key ingredient to a team that could be very dangerous in the playoffs.

    [The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

    * – Much like before Panarin’s arrival, Kane is still a lethal scorer with 70 points in 74 games this season.

    Still, he reached the apex of his career making magic with Panarin, as he collected 106 points in 2015-16 (a career-high) and 89 in 2016-17. Those rank as his two strongest regular seasons, with only 2009-10’s 88 points in the same range. Otherwise, his next highest point total was 73 points, although he’s on track to eclipse that this season.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    NHL on NBCSN Doubleheader: Capitals at Red Wings; Golden Knights at Sharks


    NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues with a doubleheader on Thursday night. In the early game, the Detroit Red Wings host the Washington Capitals at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here

    The Capitals have an opportunity to put a little distance between themselves and the second place Pittsburgh Penguins tonight. Washington is two points ahead of the Pens with a game in a hand, so a win tonight would put them four points clear of second.

    The Caps got some good news, as Evgeny Kuznetsov (upper body) made the trip to Detroit. Kuznetsov suffered an upper-body injury against the Isles last week. Even though he’s traveling, it’s unclear if he’ll actually suit up tonight.

    Since losing back-to-back games in Anaheim and Los Angeles, the Capitals have rattled off five victories in their last six contests. That includes a win in San Jose, a win over the Jets, a pair of wins over the Islanders and a victory over Dallas.

    As for the Red Wings, they’ll look to play spoiler again. They’re 5-4 overtime win over the Flyers on Tuesday night allowed to snap their 10-game losing skid. Before Tuesday’s game, you had to go all the way back to Feb. 25 to find Detroit’s last victory. Yeah, it took them long enough.

    Even though they aren’t in the playoff picture, there’s no denying the win felt good for the struggling Wings.

    “We talked about it as a team after the last game, certainly frustration was starting to boil over,” coach Jeff Blashill said after the win over Philly, per the Detroit News. “Our guys came out and played great. The third period wasn’t good enough, but we played great for two periods (and) to finish was critical.

    “You don’t want to come in here and talk about another loss. It was critical (to win).”

    Blashill’s team currently find themselves in 26th place with 65 points. A few more losses down the stretch and they’ll be able to improve their NHL Entry Draft lottery odds.

    In the late game, the San Jose Sharks host the Vegas Golden Knights at 10:00 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here

    The Golden Knights are still at least eight points clear of any other team in the Pacific Division, but there’s no denying that their play has dipped. Of course, that was to be expected. Not because they’re an expansion team, but because every team in the league takes a dip at a certain point over an 82-game season.

    In fairness to Vegas, they have won back-to-back games over Calgary and Vancouver, but injuries have been problematic for them of late. Now, it looks like they’ll have to deal with another injury, as Marc-Andre Fleury. As you’ll probably remember, they faced a pretty tough test earlier in the season when Fleury, Malcolm Subban and Oscar Dansk were all hurt.

    Head coach Gerard Gallant was pretty on Wednesday when he was asked about Fleury’s status.

    “I’m not getting into specifics about what he’s doing, but he’s not going to come today,” Gallant said, per the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “He could join us tomorrow or in the very near future.

    “He’s not coming on our plane today. He could be there tomorrow. He could be there the next day. I’m not sure.”

    Since then, they recalled Dansk from the minors. So don’t expect to see Fleury in San Jose.

    The Sharks are eight points behind Vegas for that top seed in the division. Both teams have played 73 games, so it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to catch the expansion side with only nine games remaining. Winning tonight would obviously make that a little more possible.

    Since dropping a 2-0 home decision to the Caps, the Sharks have rattled off five straight wins.

    “You always find out what the group’s made of when they’re pushed up against the wall,” head coach Pete DeBoer said, per the San Jose Mercury News. “We were in a group, a couple weeks ago, of five or six teams that were all pretty much in the same spot and we’ve found a way to separate ourselves.”

    San Jose has certainly separated themselves from the pack, as they’re three points ahead of Anaheim (third place) with a game a hand.

    It’ll be interesting to see how they handle themselves against the number two team in the conference.

    Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.