NHL Power Rankings: Conn Smythe Watch through two rounds

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we take an updated look at the Conn Smythe watch through the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

We are down to just four teams and all of them have at least one good candidate so far.

Leading the way are a couple of goalies that have helped carry their teams, following closely by a couple of the league’s best forwards.

Who all makes the Conn Smythe Watch in this week’s NHL Power Rankings?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning. The goal he gave up to Ryan Pulock in Game 1 is probably the one goal he allowed this postseason where you could look at and say, “Wow, I can not believe he did not stop that.” Overall, he has been sensational in the playoffs and the best player on the Lightning. Tampa Bay has not been quite as dominant as it was in the playoffs a year ago and has had to lean on Vasilevskiy a little more, and he has been more than up to the challenge. The perks of having the best goalie in the league on your roster.

2. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens. Nobody expected the Canadiens to be here at this point, but they are. And Price is the biggest reason why. He has the league’s top save percentage this postseason and has been lights out during Montreal’s seven-game winning streak going into the semifinals. He is not as consistently dominant as he used to be, but he can still put it all together in big games.

3. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. For the second year in a row he is leading the league in postseason scoring, and by a pretty significant margin. He already has 19 points in Tampa Bay’s first 12 games and has at least one point in all but one of the Lightning’s games. That includes five multi-point games and three three-point games.


4. Mark Stone, Vegas Golden Knights. His offensive numbers may not be as impressive as Kucherov’s, but he is right there in the discussion. He is Vegas’ best forward and one of the best all-around players in the league. He helped keep Colorado’s top line in check in the Second Round, if a force on the penalty kill, and has an overtime game winning goal that helped swing the Colorado series in Vegas’ favor.

5. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, New York Islanders. Adding Pageau at the NHL Trade Deadline a year ago and then re-signing him has been Lou Lamoriello’s second best move with the Islanders (only behind hiring Barry Trotz). Pageau has been magnificent in the playoffs, helping drive New York’s defensive game and also making big contributions offensively.

6. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights. A year ago in the playoffs he was sitting on the bench and we were all wondering if his days with the Golden Knights were over. Now the net belongs to him again and he is playing some of the best hockey of his career. Crazy how things work out sometimes.

7. Josh Bailey, New York Islanders. Bailey has been one of the core players for the Islanders for more than a decade and has been through low times and high times. He has also been outstanding in the playoffs, averaging close to a point per game so far. He has scored 10 of his 12 points at even strength.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 schedule, TV info]

8. Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights. Maybe a surprise name on the list given how he missed most of the First Round, but in the games he has played he has been outstanding. He has at least one point in each of his seven games, scoring four goals and adding four assists. That includes three game-winning goals. He keeps playing like this as Vegas’ postseason run goes on and he will rapidly climb the list.

9. Tyler Toffoli, Montreal Canadiens. Montreal’s best offensive player during the regular season has continued that into the playoffs. What a steal he has been for the Canadiens this season. What a mistake by Vancouver to let him get away.

10, Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders. Varlamov was great in the Second Round and he was great in Game 1. Based on that you could make a strong argument that he should be higher than 10th. But I can not get past the fact that he did not win a single game in the First Round and, based on the way he played there, I am not sure the Islanders would have advanced beyond there if they had not gone to Ilya Sorokin. The past seven games have put him back in the discussion, though.

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    Blue Jackets acquire D Damon Severson from Devils after he signs 8-year deal

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    The Columbus Blue Jackets acquired Damon Severson from the New Jersey Devils on Friday after the veteran defenseman and soon-to-be free agent signed an eight-year $50 million contract.

    Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen sent a third-round pick, 80th overall, in this month’s draft to the Devils for Severson, who will be under contract through the 2030-31 NHL season.

    Severson had 58 goals and 205 assists in 647 career appearances with the Devils since making his NHL debut in 2014-15. He scored seven game-winning goals and averaged more than 21 minutes of playing time during his nine seasons. The 28-year-old had seven goals and 26 assists this season, including two game-winning goals, in 81 games.

    “Damon is a versatile defenseman who has great vision, moves the puck extremely well, has good size and can play heavy minutes at both ends of the ice,” Kekalainen said.

    The Canadian was selected in the second round in the 2012 draft. He has collected 30 or more points five times in his career and twice notched 11 or more goals. He played in every game in three straight seasons from 2018-21 and has played 80 or more contests four times in his career.

    With the addition of the third-round pick, New Jersey now has six selections in the draft, including its own picks in rounds two, four, five, six and seven.

    Matthew Tkachuk returns from big hit in Stanley Cup Final, adds more playoff heroics

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    Matthew Tkachuk was down, out briefly and then back with plenty of time to make a difference.

    The Florida Panthers star left early in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final after a big hit from Vegas Golden Knights forward Keegan Kolesar, and he missed most of the first period and didn’t return immediately following intermission while being evaluated for a concussion. After looking as if he might be lost for the night, Tkachuk returned in the second and then came through with more of his now trademark playoff heroics.

    Tkachuk scored the tying goal with 2:13 left in regulation, forcing overtime and giving the Panthers new life. He then provided the screen on Carter Verhaeghe‘s OT goal for a 3-2 victory that cut Florida’s series deficit to 2-1.

    The 25-year-old said he knew he was coming back when he left the game, pulled by concussion spotters. That absence felt like a long time ago in the aftermath of another big win he was largely responsible for.

    “I felt great – I feel great,” Tkachuk said. “I’m ready to go. Everybody’s excited that we’re in this position right now.”

    Florida is in this position rather than facing elimination in Game 4 on Saturday thanks in large part to Tkachuk, who also set up Brandon Montour‘s goal that opened the scoring less than five minutes in.

    Not long after, Tkachuk stumbled getting up after the hit from Kolesar and skated to the bench. He took a shift on Florida’s power play before going down the tunnel at the demand of concussion spotters mandated by NHL protocol.

    At that point, there was zero clarity, even on the Florida bench.

    “You’re not informed at all: It’s a complete shutdown,” coach Paul Maurice said. “You are completely in the dark on those. You don’t know when the player’s coming back. There’s not an update.”

    Players insist they were not worried. Montour called it a no-brainer.

    “He’s going to come back no matter what,” captain Aleksander Barkov said. “He’s really tough guy, and he’s going to battle through everything.”

    Tkachuk rejoined his teammates on the bench a few minutes into the second. When he stepped back onto the ice for his first shift since leaving, fans cheered and chanted, “Chucky! Chucky!”

    The crowd was even louder and threw rats when Tkachuk scored his biggest goal of many during this run to tie it. He didn’t get an assist on Verhaeghe’s goal but made it happen with a tape-to-tape pass in the neutral zone and was in front of Adin Hill when it happened.

    Asked if he was happy Tkachuk returned, Maurice joked that it was after midnight.

    “It was fine,” he quipped.

    Panthers rally, top Golden Knights 3-2 in OT of Game 3 of Stanley Cup final

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    SUNRISE, Fla. — Carter Verhaeghe scored 4:27 into overtime and the Florida Panthers pulled off some more postseason dramatics to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night.

    Matthew Tkachuk tied it with 2:13 left in the third period for the Panthers, who got the franchise’s first title-series game win in seven tries. Florida had to fend off a power play to start overtime, and Verhaeghe got the winner from the slot to get the Panthers within 2-1 in the series.

    Game 4 is Saturday night.

    Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 25 shots for Florida. Adin Hill made 20 saves for Vegas, but got beat on the only shot that came his way in overtime.

    Brandon Montour also scored for Florida, which pulled Bobrovsky down 2-1 late in the third for the extra attacker and Tkachuk — who left for parts of the first and second periods after taking a big hit — made that move pay off when he tied the game.

    His goal breathed life into a very nervous building. But the Panthers were furious — and replays showed they had a case — when Gustav Forsling was sent to the box with 11.2 seconds remaining for tripping. Florida survived that scare, and a few minutes later, had life in the series again.

    The odds are still long, but the Panthers at least have a bit more statistical hope now. Of the previous 55 teams to trail 2-1 at this point of the Stanley Cup Final, 11 have actually rallied to hoist the trophy.

    It’s improbable, sure. So are the Panthers, who were the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, were down 3-1 to Boston in Round 1, were 133 seconds away from trailing this series 3-0 — and now have tons of reasons for optimism.

    Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone each had power-play goals for Vegas.

    Marchessault’s goal was his 13th in his last 13 playoff games, his fourth of this series and his third with the man advantage.

    As if all that wasn’t enough, there was a little history in there as well. Vegas joined the 1980 New York Islanders as the only team with at least two power-play goals in three consecutive games in the Cup final. And Marchessault became the third player in the last 35 years to score in each of the first three games of a title series — joining Steve Yzerman in 1997 with Detroit and Jake Guentzel with Pittsburgh in 2017.

    But it wasn’t enough to give Vegas a 3-0 lead in the series.


    Before Thursday, Florida’s last home game in the title series was June 10, 1996, when Uwe Krupp scored in the third overtime for a 1-0 win as Colorado finished off a four-game sweep of the Panthers for the Cup. … Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was in the crowd, as was NBA great Charles Barkley, and former Dolphins star Dan Marino was the celebrity drummer to welcome the Panthers onto the ice.

    Blackhawks, Athanasiou agree to 2-year, $8.5 million contract

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    CHICAGO — The rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks locked in one of their top scorers, agreeing to a two-year, $8.5 million contract with forward Andreas Athanasiou on Thursday.

    The 28-year-old Athanasiou tied for the team lead with 20 goals and ranked third with 40 points in his first season with Chicago. He matched career highs with four game-winning goals and three power-play goals.

    The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Athanasiou has 125 goals and 111 assists in 459 games with the Detroit Red Wings (2015-20), Edmonton Oilers (2020), Los Angeles Kings (2020-22) and Blackhawks.

    Chicago went 26-49-7 and finished last in the Central Division. The Blackhawks dealt Patrick Kane to the New York Rangers prior to the trade deadline and announced in April they would not re-sign Jonathan Toews, parting with two players who led them to Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015.