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
teams:

Philadelphia Flyers

Mike
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
postseason.

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

Briere
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.

Four.

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

Chicago
Blackhawks

Jonathan Toews, 7 goals, 19 assists,
plus-4

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.

Dustin
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
well.

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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    NHL On NBCSN: Blues look to slow down Blackhawks

    CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 24: Jori Lehtera #12 of the St. Louis Blues controls the puck between Artem Anisimov #15 (L) and Duncan Keith #2 of the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on January 24, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Blues 2-0. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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    The second game on the NBC Networks today features a Central Division rivalry when the St. Louis Blues pay a visit to the Chicago Blackhawks.

    Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, or on our Live Stream.

    It will also be the second Star Sunday broadcast of the day, with this one featuring Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko and Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews.

    From the minute he arrived in the NHL Tarasenko has been one of the league’s most electrifying players and is currently on pace for what would be his third consecutive season with at least 37 goals with an outside shot at his second consecutive 40-goal season.

    Toews, meanwhile, is doing his part to erase a miserable first half of the season offensively by completely taking over for the Blackhawks in recent weeks. Entering Sunday’s game Toews is on a scoring surge that has seen him record 23 points in the past 15 games. That is more offense than he created in his first 37 games of the season.

    As a team, the Blackhawks are simply crushing any opponent that gets in their way right now with wins in eight of their past nine games thanks to an offense that is scoring at least four goals every game during that stretch.

    It’s a big game for both teams when it comes to the playoff picture.

    For the Blues, winners of seven out of 10 under new coach Mike Yeo, they have a chance to put a little distance between themselves and the rest of the pack in Western Conference wild card race if they can pick up a win. They enter the game three points up on the Los Angeles Kings.

    The Blackhawks are still trying to keep pace with the Minnesota Wild for the top spot in the Central Division, entering the day three points back.

    Chicago will be without a pretty significant member of its defense on Sunday night when Niklas Hjalmarsson misses the game due to an upper body injury. He had to exit their game against Arizona on Thursday night in the first period. He is currently listed as day-to-day. With Hjalmarsson out Michal Rozsival will draw back in to the lineup after scoring his first goal of the season on Thursday.

    Flyers’ Brandon Manning has discipline hearing for Jake Guentzel hit

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    The Pittsburgh Penguins’ 4-2 Stadium Series win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night turned into a pretty physical game. Things really started to escalate in the second period when Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning rocked Penguins rookie forward Jake Guentzel with the huge open ice hit shown in the video above.

    The biggest problem with the hit, of course, is that Guentzel not only did not have the puck when he was hit, but he never really had possession of the puck at all and was not eligible to be hit on the play.

    That is interference.

    Even though no interference penalty was called on the play, Manning is probably not going to escape discipline for the play. The NHL’s department of player safety announced on Sunday morning that Manning will have a hearing on Monday for the hit.

    Guentzel was not injured on the play and remained in the game, picking up an assist a few minutes later on a Nick Bonino power play goal. Guentzel finished the game with two assists and already has 14 points in his first 23 games in the NHL.

    NHL On NBC: Bruins look to stay hot against desperate Stars

    BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 10: Tyler Seguin #91 of the Dallas Stars prepares to face off against Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins during the second period at TD Garden on February 10, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Stars defeat the Bruins 5-3. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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    The NBC networks are airing two games on Sunday, with the first one being a big matchup in Dallas featuring two teams desperately fighting for a playoff spot when the Stars host the Boston Bruins.

    It’s another Star Sunday on NBC with the focus for this game falling on Stars forward (and former Bruins) Tyler Seguin and Bruins forward David Pastrnak.

    Seguin has been one of the NHL’s elite offensive players since arriving in Dallas in a trade four years ago, while Pastrnak is having a breakout season in Boston that has already seen him score 26 goals in 54 games.

    Faceoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. ET, and all of the action can be seen on NBC or via our Live Stream.

    As for the game itself, it’s a pretty huge — as they all will be from now on — for both teams. The Bruins enter the game having won four of their first five games under new coach Bruce Cassidy as their offense continues its second half resurgence. They have already scored 23 goals in the five games under Cassidy, and have averaged more than 3.18 goals per game in their past 22 under both him and former coach Claude Julien. Now that Tuukka Rask has started to get back on track, wins are starting to come a little more frequently.

    The Bruins enter play on Sunday barely holding on to the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference with 68 points, currently owning a tiebreaker over the New York Islanders and sitting two points ahead of the Florida Panthers. A win on Sunday would move them into a tie for second place in the Atlantic Division with the Ottawa Senators.

    For the Stars, meanwhile, things are a little more dire.

    Even with wins in back-to-back games entering Sunday their playoff chances should probably be described as a complete long shot at this point, sitting nine points back of the St. Louis Blues for a wild card spot.

    They are looking to win three games in a row for just the third time this season.

    They get a little bit of help on the blue line on Sunday with the likely return of defenseman Johnny Oduya as he was activated from injured reserve Sunday morning.

    On Friday, they already started selling assets by trading Patrick Eaves to the Anaheim Ducks for a draft pick.

    Video: AHL’s Iowa Wild and Chicago Wolves brawl on … and off the ice

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    The AHL’s Iowa Wild and Chicago Wolves engaged in a brawl that eventually spilled out into a hallway at the Allstate Arena on Saturday — the same day the cult classic movie ‘Slap Shot’ apparently celebrated the 40th anniversary of its release.

    Talk about timing.

    A line brawl (4:15-mark of the video) broke out on the ice between the Wolves and Wild with less than three minutes remaining in the third period of Saturday’s game. But the fighting didn’t end there. Video highlights show several players, still in full gear, involved shortly after in an altercation off the ice.

    Video shows Vince Dunn of the Wolves and Kurtis Gabriel trading punches off the ice before Gabriel is knocked to the ground and more players — and staff in the arena — intervene.

    It looked like Dunn was on his way to the dressing room when Gabriel came over, leading to their off-ice bout.

    The incident is sure to result in supplementary discipline from the AHL.

    These teams, which combined for 70 penalty minutes Saturday, meet again Sunday. So, that could be interesting — to say the least.