PHT Power Rankings: Conn Smythe favorites entering Stanley Cup Final

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Now that we are through the first three rounds of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs the race for the Conn Smythe Trophy is really starting to sort itself out.

It is down to just two teams and both the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues have several worthy contenders that have stood out as potential postseason MVPs.

Some of them have been dominant from the start, while others have started to make their presence known over the past couple of weeks.

It is time once again to check in on the top contenders in the PHT Power Rankings.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins. It is not a stretch to suggest that this is the best hockey Rask has ever played in the NHL. After allowing just five goals in the Bruins’ four game sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final, he now has a .942 save percentage in the playoffs and is helping to make what was an already great team a downright dominant team. He is one of just six goalies in NHL history to have a save percentage of .940 or better through their first 17 games in a single postseason, joining a list that includes only Jean-Sebastien Giguere (2002-03), Jonathan Quick (2011-12), Olaf Kolzig (1997-98), Henrik Lundqvist (2013-14) and … Rask himself once before (2013).

2. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins. Simply one of the most impactful skaters in the NHL. Love him or hate him, he is a total force on the ice in all three zones and he is putting together another tremendous postseason performance for the Bruins. His 18 points are second only to San Jose Sharks forward Logan Couture (he finished the playoffs with 20 points in 20 games; Marchand’s per-game average is still higher) and he has already recorded six multi-point games (tied with Tomas Hertl for the most). That includes three games with at least three points, also tops in the league.

3. Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues. Schwartz has followed up what was one of the worst regular season performances of his career with a postseason that could be worthy of the Conn Smythe Trophy if the Blues end up winning the Stanley Cup. After scoring just 11 goals in 69 regular season games, Schwartz enters the Cup Final having already eclipsed that mark (12 goals) in the Blues’ first 19 playoff games. That includes a league-leading 10 even-strength goals, two game-winning goals, and two hat tricks. Yes, a lot of that goal-scoring spike is due to a 22 percent shooting percentage that certainly will not continue forever, but his underlying numbers are outstanding across the board. When he is on the ice the Blues are attempting more than 57 percent of the total shot attempts and generating more than 55 percent of the scoring chances. He is playing extremely well and when combined with a positive change in his shooting luck it has produced a huge postseason.

4. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues. After a somewhat slow start to the playoffs, at least as it related to his point production, Tarasenko went on a tear at the absolute perfect time by recording at least one point in all six games of the Western Conference Final, finishing the series with eight total points, including three goals. He remains one of the most productive postseason goal-scorers in league history and is currently in the top-25 all-time in goals per game (among players with at least 40 postseason games). Is it a case of recency bias to have him so high at this point? Maybe, but that is how the Conn Smythe voting tends to go. He is the Blues’ best player and when he gets on a roll he can be nearly impossible to stop. Right now he is on a roll.

5. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins. It has been business as usual for Bergeron this postseason as he plays big minutes, dominates possession, shuts down other team’s top scorers, and chips in some offense of his own. Maybe the only surprise from him in the playoffs is that six of his eight goals have come on the power play. Before this season he had scored just seven power play goals in 112 postseason games.

6. Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues. His overall numbers for the playoffs are not great, and are definitely lower than what he did during the regular season, but that does not mean he has not played extremely well at times. Like Tarasenko, he is doing so at just the right time to get noticed in the Conn Smythe race. He is 6-2 with a .925 save percentage in his past eight starts and has allowed just five goals in the four knockout games he has played (three games where the Blues could eliminate a team; one game where the Blues faced elimination).

STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW
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Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

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.

Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

“Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

“He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

“I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

“I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

“I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

“It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

“Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

“I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

“Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.