Conn Smythe watch: Is it Tim Thomas’ award no matter what?

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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.

The Buzzer: Tatar’s three-point night; Matthews makes more history

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Three Stars

1. Tomas Tatar, Montreal Canadiens. Two big wins in a row for the Canadiens. Two big nights for Tatar, who now has six points in his last two games. During a 7-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings, Tatar scored a goal and assisted on two others. Last season, Tatar had only two multi-point games the entire year.

2. Kasperi Kapanen, Toronto Maple Leafs. Kapanen continued his red-hot start with a pair of goals during the Maple Leafs’ 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings. He now has four goals and eight points through seven games this season, really making most of this opportunity in William Nylander‘s absence.

3. Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators. A 37-save effort from Anderson helped the Senators dispatch the Dallas Stars 4-1. It was Anderson’s second win in a row and over his last two games he’s stopped 73 of 75 shots faced.

Highlights of the Night

• During their game Monday night, the Senators remembered the late Ray Emery:

• Maxime Lajoie can’t stop scoring. The Senators defensman potted his fourth of the season and now has seven points on the season.

• In his 1,000th NHL game, Tomas Plekanec scored:

• One of Kapanen’s goals was this bank shot:

• Good luck trying to stop this Matt Dumba rocket:

Factoid of the Night

Scores
Maple Leafs 4, Kings 1

Senators 4, Stars 1
Canadiens 7, Red Wings 3
Predators 4, Wild 2

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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.

Panthers’ Matheson suspended two games for slamming Pettersson to ice

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The NHL announced on Monday evening that Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson has been suspended two games for “interference and unsportsmanlike conduct” against Vancouver Canucks rookie forward Elias Pettersson over the weekend.

Petterson has been entered in to the NHL’s concussion protocol and is expected to be sidelined for the next 7-10 days as a result of the play.

The incident took place early in the third period of Saturday’s game in Florida and left the Canucks completely furious. Just after Pettersson had dangled around Matheson in the offensive zone, Matheson again encountered the talented rookie along the boards and after checking him, proceeded to slam him to the ice with the puck nowhere near the two players.

Here is the video as well as the NHL’s explanation for the suspension.

Panthers coach Bob Boughner tried to defend his play on Monday by saying that Matheson is an honest player and that he was just attempting to finish his check hard, while Matheson’s agent said that his client was “surprised” by how light Pettersson is and that it all happened very quickly.

On Monday, Canucks coach Travis Green was still upset about the play and how it resulted in his team losing a bright young star to injury on a play that was not necessary.

“Am I mad at the play? Extremely mad. I’m really upset, I still am,” Green said. “We lost a bright young player to an injury that I don’t think was necessary. I’m pissed off right now, still talking about it.”

Matheson forfeits $52,419.36 in salary and is eligible to return to the Panthers’ lineup Saturday against Detroit.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Crosby, MacKinnon surprise Kenyan hockey team (Video)

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Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon have teamed up before to promote Tim Hortons, the Canadian coffee and donut shop, but their latest venture saw them help spread the gospel of hockey.

Tim Hortons flew 12 members of Kenya’s senior men’s hockey team to Canada over the summer for a game. The African team, which was formed in 2012 and has set a goal for future Olympic participation, has only been able to play against themselves back home and this would be a new experience playing against an actual opponent.

As the players gathered inside their locker room, which featured brand new equipment and Kenya hockey jerseys, in came the Pittsburgh Penguins captain and Colorado Avalanche star to join their team.

“It is a dream to not only have the chance to play in Canada, but to play – for the first time – in full gear alongside two of the greatest players of the game,” said team captain Benard Azegere. “When we first started playing in Kenya, we didn’t even have full equipment, but now not only do we have that, we can say we’ve played a real game with some All-Star teammates.”

“That’s the best part about the game, just how it reaches so many people in a place like Kenya where you wouldn’t think there’s even ice,” Crosby said on Monday via the Tribune-Review. “To meet people from different places and to share the game that we love to play, I think I had as much fun as any of those guys today.”

The Kenyan Ice Hockey Federation is coming soon, and the men are not alone in their pursuit of a national team. As ESPN.com documented last week, a group of five women make up the Nairobi Ice Lions, who, like the men, see Olympic participation in their future.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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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.

Alex DeBrincat is Blackhawks’ next rising star

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Alex DeBrincat spent three seasons between 2014 and 2017 absolutely dominating the Ontario Hockey League. He was one of the most productive and prolific scorers in all of junior hockey during his time with the Erie Otters, and never finished a full season with less than 50 goals or 100 points.

That sort of production, combined with his obvious talent level, should have made him one of the first picks in the 2016 draft class.

It didn’t. Mainly because he was listed at 5-7 and under 170 pounds, making him one of the smallest players in the class and, today, one of the smallest players in the NHL. As he slid out of the first round in 2016 there was always the potential for somebody to get a steal of a player.

That somebody turned out to be the Chicago Blackhawks, who ended up snagging him with the 39th overall pick in the draft.

Today, that pick is looking like one of the steals of that draft.

DeBrincat has been one of the offensive stars for the Blackhawks in the early going this season and already has nine points (including six goals) in the team’s first five games. That comes after a rookie season that saw him finish as the Blackhawks’ leading goal scorer. So far, he is one of the most productive players to come out of his draft class as the only players to outscore him have been Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Mathew Tkachuk, and Clayton Keller, all of whom were among the first seven players taken in the draft.

Only Matthews, Laine, and Keller have been better on a points per game basis.

All of this is a huge development for the Blackhawks.

Given their current salary cap situation they are going to need young players on cheap contracts to fill in around their big-money stars at the top of the lineup. DeBrincat is well on his way to giving them such a player and should be part of the organization’s next wave of young talent. And that next wave seems to have some promising prospects. Along with DeBrincat the Blackhawks are also getting a ton of production out of rookie defenseman Henri Jokiharju, the team’s first-round pick in 2017, and they also have Adam Boqvist, the No. 7 overall pick from 2018, waiting in the wings.

The lesson that the rest of the teams in the league should take away from this is to never let a player’s size stand in the way of giving them a chance. Over the past decade teams have been far more willing to take “undersized” players than they used to be, but they are still a little too fearful of that lack of size because there was nothing in DeBrincat’s production or play as a junior player that should have resulted in him being anything other than a first-round pick … and probably a very high one. Obviously if all things are equal with players the bigger, more physical player is preferable. But in cases like DeBrincat (and Johnny Gaudreau, and Nikita Kucherov, and so on and so on before him) all things are not usually equal.

DeBrincat has always been a highly skilled player that produced at an obscene level. There was always the potential for him to be a top-line player. A lot of teams couldn’t get past the lack of size and allowed him to slip all the way down to the second round. The Blackhawks were the team to take the “chance” on him and are being rewarded with an emerging star that could be a potential difference-maker for them for a very, very long time.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.