2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 6: Who is the new Conn Smythe favorite?

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Duncan Keith.jpgBefore this series started, I felt that the obvious early choices for
the Conn Smythe resided with the Blackhawks in Jonathan Toews and Antti
Niemi. After five games, it’s tough to include those two in the
conversation.

Niemi hasn’t played poorly, but after two strong
games to start the finals hasn’t exactly been as good as in previous
rounds. Jonathan Toews, after having a point in nearly every postseason
game for the Blackhawks headed into the finals, has struggled mightily
against the Flyers.

So if it’s not Toews and it’s Niemi, who
then? James and I set out to discuss our favorites for the award and
what was really odd, in a series that hasn’t exactly been known for it’s
great defense, two defensemen have risen to the top of the
conversation.

James: Chris Pronger

Whether
the Flyers win the Cup or not, Chris Pronger is the most valuable
player of this year’s playoffs.

Rather than just picking the most
productive player on the Cup-winning team, I think it’s wiser for a
voter to simply close his or her eyes and ask this question: “If you
could pick any player from the finalists to lead your team to victory,
who would it be?” Unless you’re so hateful toward the often-dirty (or if
we want to be politically correct, “rule-bending”) defenseman, is there
really any way you could say that the Philadelphia Flyers would be in
the Cup finals without Pronger?

He leads the playoffs in time on
ice per game by almost a full minute with a stunning 29:01 per game,
which accounts for almost half a contest. His 17 points would be a solid
output for a forward and it leads all blueliners in the postseason. He
kills nearly two penalties worth of time per night (3:57) yet is also a
force on the point with an average of 4:27 of powerplay time per game.

Yet
it’s not the numbers that make him the greatest candidate, but rather
the psychological effects of his presence. From his smack-talking, to
his gigantic hits and even the juvenile puck stealing antics, his shadow
looms over every game both literally and figuratively. Want the best
reason why the team stayed alive while their goalies went down like
flies? It’s easy: because they have Chris Pronger, the guy who almost
helped Jussi freaking Markkanen win a Stanley Cup.

Finally, as
much as he’s worthy of karmic comeuppance, Pronger is also flat-out
overdue for a Conn Smythe Trophy. In my mind, he should already be a
two-time winner. He did everything for that Edmonton Oilers team … he
even scored a penalty shot goal. While the Anaheim Ducks got by without
him when he was suspended, Pronger set the tone for that brutal bunch
and promoted them from a solid playoff team to a dominant, terrifying
force.

So, instead of throwing a dart at the Chicago Blackhawks
roster or a list of high-scoring Philadelphia Flyers forwards, just make
the obvious – if unpopular – choice. Pronger is the most valuable
player of these playoffs, even if he may also be the most volatile and
villainous.

Brandon: Duncan Keith

The numbers
are certainly there. 16 points in 21 games, over 27 minutes of ice time a
night, plus-3 for the postseason. But picking Keith isn’t about stats
or numbers, it’s about what you see on the ice while watching him play.

I
had the chance to see both games in Philadelphia in person and while
neither went well for the Hawks I walked away with a completely
different view on Duncan Keith as a hockey player. I always knew he was
great, I always knew he was one of the best but I still don’t think I
realized just how magical he really is.

Watching in person I was
able to focus on Keith and not have to follow the puck and it was tough
to find a flaw in his game. He’s in nearly the perfect position every
single time he’s on the ice and there is rarely a wasted movement when
he’s playing. Seeing the way he was able to close in on a loose puck,
beating a Flyers player to a spot and making the perfect play on the
puck to stop a scoring chance was just jaw-dropping to witness.

What
does this have to do with the Conn Smythe? For one, he’s the anchor on
an extremely talented blue line and while the rest of his team has
faltered at times against Philly he’s always been a rock. His play never
dropped off and when the Hawks were desperately trying to win two close
games he was the one that was pushing his team forward. He may not have
been successful, but when the rest of his team was struggling he was
the one that found a way to take his game to the next level.

He
may not be as outspoken as Chris Pronger nor as charismatic off the ice,
but he knows how to take care of business when needed. He’s the most
important player on a team poised to win the Stanley Cup, which is
generally the definition of an MVP. He has not taken a penalty in six
games, despite playing against a very physical and speedy opponent. He
finds a way to make the perfect play nearly every chance he gets, and he
is the steadying force that has led the Hawks to this moment tonight.

Consensus:

Since
I’m running this show, and since I believe the Hawks will find a way to
win tonight, then we’re going with Duncan Keith for the Conn Smythe.

Senators, Panthers fail to gain in Eastern playoff races

OTTAWA, CANADA - FEBRUARY 7: Jay Harrison #44 of the Carolina Hurricanes celebrates his game winning overtime goal with team mate Jeff Skinner #53, during an NHL game at Scotiabank Place on February 7, 2013 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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PHT already touched on the Florida Panthers falling to the Calgary Flames on Friday, but in tandem with the Ottawa Senators losing to the Carolina Hurricanes, it makes for a night of teams failing to gain valuable points out East.

With the Montreal Canadiens failing lately, the Senators had a chance to take first place in the Atlantic by tying the Habs in points while holding games in hand. Instead, they’ll need to wait.

For the sake of simplicity, here are the Atlantic rankings, with emphasis on the top five.

1. Canadiens – 72 points in 61 games played
2. Senators – 70 in 59
3. Maple Leafs – 68 in 60

Bruins – 68 in 61
Panthers – 66 in 60
Sabres and Lightning have 62 in 60, Red Wings have 58 in 60

You can see the Panthers hanging around the perimeter of the top three; a point or two would have made them a bigger threat to Toronto and Boston. Alas, even with a heavier slate of home games lately, Florida has lost two straight at home.

Here’s an updated look at the wild card races after the Panthers failed to make up some ground:

1. Blue Jackets – 79 in 58, more concerned with Metro races
2. Islanders – 68 in 60

Bruins – 68 in 61
Panthers – 66 in 60
Flyers – 63 in 60

Tiebreaker situations would have meant that the Panthers would have ended tonight technically outside of the playoffs anyway, but a win or even a “charity point” congests an already snug situation. Instead, they stayed put and wasted a game.

Ottawa’s still in a solid situation to overtake Montreal or at least maintain a round of home-ice advantage as the second seed in the Atlantic. So while both teams are kicking themselves for their losses, the Panthers have more to be upset about.

Ultimately, some of the biggest winners in the East were teams that didn’t play or that have a lot less to play for.

(Perhaps the Hurricanes feel a little more optimistic, by the way, as 58 points in 57 games played means they could at least theoretically fight their way back into the discussion.)

Road warriors: Flames move to first West wild card spot with win vs. Panthers

SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 24: Troy Brouwer #36 of the Calgary Flames celebrates his second period goal against the Florida Panthers with Lance Bouma #17 and Matt Stajan #18 at the BB&T Center on February 24, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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The road has been doing both the Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers quite a bit of good lately.

Calgary moved to the first wild card spot on Friday after beating the Panthers in Florida by a score of 4-2. So far, they’ve grabbed at least a point in every game during a road trip that ends in Carolina on Sunday:

Feb. 18: 2-1 OT loss at Vancouver
Feb. 21: 6-5 OT win at Nashville
Feb. 23: 3-2 win at Tampa Bay
Tonight: 4-2 win at Florida

You can’t totally blame the Panthers if they almost miss their road trip.

They rattled off five straight wins through what seemed like a brutal road haul on paper, but now they’ve lost back-to-back home games in regulation. With five of six and six of seven slated in Sunrise, the Panthers need to make the most of these opportunities. So far … not so good.

Here’s how the West wild card situations look now:

1. Flames – 68 points in 62 GP
2. Predators – 67 points in 60 GP

Kings – 62 in 60 GP
Jets – 62 in 63 GP

(The Blues could easily slip below the Predators into the wild card spot, as they also have 67 points in 60 games but hold wins and ROW tiebreaker advantages.)

So, Calgary might not manage to maintain its hold over the first wild card spot, but this streak makes a playoff berth look far more likely.

Capitals could make home-ice advantage a serious edge in playoffs

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 01: Brett Connolly #10 of the Washington Capitals celebrates his goal with teammates against the Boston Bruins during the third period at Verizon Center on February 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Look, there’s no escaping the naysayers who will dismiss just about any Washington Capitals accomplishments with snark about past playoff letdowns.

All the Capitals can do is march forward and lock down as many edges as they can.

With 89 standings points after a tight 2-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Friday, the Capitals look increasingly likely to have home-ice advantage either through the East (seven-point edge on the Penguins or the entire playoffs (five-point edge on idle Wild, who only hold a game in hand on the Caps).

Now, it’s fair to argue that home-ice (or home-court) advantage matters less in hockey than some other sports. Sure, you can line-match more often with the last change, among other advantages. Still, the biggest edges might be mental.

That said … those small edges might be enough for a team as loaded – and with as much urgency – as this rendition of the Capitals.

Heeding the call at the Verizon Center

They’ve now won 13 games in a row at the Verizon Center, improving their overall home record to 25-5-1.

The Capitals are still a strong team on the road (16-7-6), yet that home record is lofty. It also could come in awfully handy, particularly if they face off against the Penguins again. Pittsburgh’s 24-4-3 home mark contrasts sharply with a more modest 13-10-5 road record.

Perhaps this talk is all small potatoes. Still, when you consider how close things have been – in this age of parity, and in the extremely competitive Metropolitian Division specifically – it could be quite the edge.

In short, the Capitals are a pretty scary group possibly with home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. At least as of right now.

As far as the Oilers go, they’re locked in a tight race for second in the Pacific, as the Ducks currently hold the ROW tiebreaker. Grabbing at least a standings point in this one would have helped … but that’s a tall order against the Caps in their own backyard.

It wasn’t all good news for Washington, tonight:

Loss vs. Pens at Stadium Series could push Flyers to sell at trade deadline

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 28:  Chris Pryor, Director of Scouting (R), and Ron Hextall General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers (L) sit at their team table on Day Two of the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 28, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Is a cross-state, historic NHL rivalry not enough to drum up interest in Saturday’s 2017 Stadium Series between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins? Maybe a trade deadline hook will do it for you.

As the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi reports, Flyers GM Ron Hextall already rules his team out as buyers. That leaves two options, really: standing pat or going into “sell mode.”

Hextall provides an interesting nugget in that regard: it might just come down to what happens against the Penguins tomorrow, via NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman:

It seems odd to imagine that the difference between generating zero versus two standings points might dictate a team’s direction, but it also shows the power of parity in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Granted, it’s not like Hextall locks himself into one direction based on the result. Still, it sounds like that game could have some power in swaying his decision.

The Flyers have some interesting trade chips if they do decide to make a move. Michal Neuvirth fears being moved, while Steve Mason at least needs a new contract, leaving their goaltending future up to question.

There are some other interesting UFAs, particularly in defensemen Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto.

Some Flyers fans believe that they should indeed be sellers, though it’s tough to imagine many of them rooting for the Penguins to win just to make it happen.