Usually when a team isn’t sure who their starting goaltender will be in the playoffs, it’s because neither one has proven himself. In the case of the St. Louis Blues, the problem is that they arguably have the top two goaltenders in the league this season. Jaroslav Halak has already had some playoff success and he’s been nearly unbeatable since the start of November. Then of course there’s Brian Elliott, who posted his second consecutive shutout in a 4-0 victory over Phoenix on Sunday.
Although Elliott only had to stop 20 shots this time, he is tied for the league lead with eight shutouts despite the handicap of having only played in 35 games. Of those who qualify, he is the NHL’s clear leader in GAA and save percentage.
Not that the Blues needed much offense on Sunday, but Alex Pietrangelo, David Backes, Patrik Berglund, and Ryan Reaves each scored a goal. Kevin Shattenkirk recorded three assists and has now surpassed the 40-point milestone in each of his first two NHL campaigns.
St. Louis had lost four of their previous five contests, so this win is certainly timely. They had allowed the Vancouver Canucks to close the gap in the battle for the first seed in the Western Conference, but this victory gives them a four-point lead in that race.
The Blues are very likely to win their division, but it’s still not official. They get a chance to come one step closer to locking up the Central Division in their game against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, this loss was a serious blow to the Phoenix Coyotes. Although they still finished the night in seventh place and have a one-point lead over Los Angeles, San Jose, and Colorado, they have just five games remaining. By contrast, the Kings and Sharks both have seven contests left on their schedules. Phoenix will be under a lot of pressure to beat San Jose on Thursday.
Conn Smythe watch: Is it Tim Thomas’ award no matter what?
With there being at most two games left in the playoffs and the Canucks just one win away from winning the franchise’s first Stanley Cup, the debate over who the playoffs’ most valuable player is raging. With so many stellar performances throughout the playoffs going on and culminating into the Stanley Cup finals we’ve seen a number of players raise their game in the postseason. The one guy who might win the Conn Smythe Trophy might just get it whether or not his team wins the Cup or not – Boston’s Tim Thomas has been just that good.
Thomas’ consistency through the finals has helped keep the Bruins in the three games they’ve lost and in the two games he’s won against Vancouver he’s played brilliantly including a shutout in Game 4. That kind of play has been a microcosm of how he’s played throughout the playoffs though. His numbers in these playoffs are stellar with a 2.07 goals against average and a .937 save percentage.
That said, if the Bruins lose in six games to Vancouver, can it be justifiable to give him the playoff MVP award when he couldn’t even get his team to a seventh game in the finals? That might be the debate we end up having late Monday night if the Canucks end the series in Boston.
We’ve seen goalies take home the Conn Smythe Trophy in modern NHL time when their team has lost but their teams needed to go seven games in the finals to help make it happen. Ron Hextall did it in 1987 for Philadelphia against Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers and Jean-Sebastien Giguere did it for Anaheim against New Jersey in 2003. In 1966 we saw Roger Crozier win the award for Detroit after being bounced in six games from the finals by Montreal in six games. Glenn Hall won it for the St. Louis Blues in 1968 for St. Louis after helping the Blues win the first two rounds in seven games before they were swept from the finals by Montreal. Philadelphia’s Reggie Leach is the only non-goalie to win the Conn Smythe Trophy on a losing team doing so in 1976 when the Flyers were swept by Montreal.
Who from Vancouver could steal the award away from him though? Boston fans will likely hate the choices.
At the top of the list is Roberto Luongo, the guy who said even he could’ve stopped Maxim Lapierre’s lone goal in Game 5. Outside of the two blowouts in the finals, Luongo’s been solid if not brilliant in the playoffs. His numbers pale in comparison to that of Thomas (2.43 goals against average, .919 save percentage) but if he’s the guy that gets to skate the Stanley Cup around after playing so brilliantly for two rounds and for most of the finals, he’d be tough to ignore. If Luongo earned a third shutout in the finals, that might be the only thing to keep Thomas from winning it. Yes the award is for playoffs MVP but three shutouts in the finals would probably be enough to help him win it. That’s asking a lot, however.
Another guy you could look at is Alex Burrows. While he’s had more than his fair share of ridiculous nonsense to take attention from how he’s played, he’s the one guy producing in the finals for Vancouver with two goals and an assist (all in Game 2) and throughout the playoffs he’s been solid earning 17 points including nine goals. He helped Vancouver win Game 2 of the finals on his own and he was a menace against both Nashville and San Jose.
We’d throw Henrik Sedin’s name into the mix as he’s second in the playoffs in scoring (behind Boston’s David Krejci now tops with 22 points, four ahead of teammate Patrice Bergeron) but he’s had zero points in the finals. Tough to be a playoff MVP when you’re not producing when the team needs you the most. The same can be said of Ryan Kesler. Kesler appeared to be the front runner for the award heading into the finals after coming off dominating series against Nashville and San Jose, but he too has disappeared in the finals earning just one assist in Game 1 against Boston. It was a big assist just the same leading to the game’s only goal, but his 19 points in the playoffs may not be enough to get the attention of the voters.
It’s not unprecedented that a losing player can earn the playoff MVP award and it’s not even without prior examples of doing it without going all the way to seven games in the finals to make it happen. Granted it hasn’t happened since 1976, but if you had to lay a bet down on who was going to win the Conn Smythe Trophy the easy money appears to be on Tim Thomas.
What do you think? Is it Thomas’ to lose or is there a Canucks player with a shot at it? Is there a Bruins teammate that’s got a chance to steal it from Thomas? Let us know in the comments and vote in our poll.