Conn Smythe watch: Makar, Vasilevskiy ahead as Stanley Cup Final begins

The 2022 Stanley Cup Final is here with the Colorado Avalanche meeting the Tampa Bay Lightning, which means it is time for another updated look at the 2022 Conn Smythe watch for playoff MVP.

Both teams have several strong candidates going into the Final, but there are a couple that have separated themselves from the pack.

Let’s take a look at the competition as it sits heading into Game 1 on Wednesday night.

1. Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche. A sensational player whose performance has reached an entirely new level in the playoffs. Through Colorado’s first 14 games he is averaging 1.57 points per game, an unheard of number for a defenseman at this point in the playoffs, while also helping the Avalanche defense shut down opponents and dictate the pace of the game. He has been the best player on the ice every time he goes over the boards.

When he is on the ice during 5-on-5 play Colorado has more than a 60% share of total shot attempts, scoring chances, high-danger scoring chances, and expected goals, while also outscoring teams by a 22-13 margin. Add that to his point total, his power play impact, and the fact he already has an overtime game-winning goal and his performance is even more dominant. In terms of overall impact he has been unmatched through the first three rounds.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]

2. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning. His regular season numbers were down a bit (for his standards) and he had a slow start in the First Round against Toronto, but he remains the most clutch goalie in the league and is again showing why he is the best big-game goalie in the business. When Tampa Bay has had a chance to advance this postseason he has been nearly unbeatable, while he carries an overall save percentage of .928 in the playoffs.

He has again played every minute in net for the Lightning (just as he did the past two postseasons on their way to the Stanley Cup) and is the biggest game-changer they have. The Lightning do not have quite the same depth as they did on their previous two Stanley Cup runs, but they still have an all-time great in net who is again stealing the show.

3. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. He might not be able to catch Connor McDavid to lead the league in playoff scoring for a third year in a row, but Kucherov is remains the driving force behind Tampa Bay’s offense and is having another sensational postseason. He already has 23 points in 17 games and has scored some huge goals for the Lightning. He enters the final on a five-game point streak and already has seven multi-point games this postseason, including three three-point games and one four-point game.

4. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche. MacKinnon has been consistent, dominant, and at times looks like he has been shot out of a cannon during games. The most stunning number so far: He leads the playoffs with 82 shots on goal even though the Avalanche have only played 14 playoff games entering the Final. That is a 5.85 shots per game average. He is everywhere.

[NHL Power Rankings: X-Factors for 2022 Stanley Cup Final]

5. Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning. He does not get as much attention as some of Tampa Bay’s other core players, but he has been a key cog in this machine over the past eight years and he is having an outstanding postseason. Especially since joining the top line with Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. Palat enters the Final with 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) in 17 games, and scored two key game-winning goals late in games in the Eastern Conference Final to help the Lightning erase a 2-0 series deficit.

6. Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche. Like MacKinnon, he has simply been steady, solid, productive, and at times dominant. If Colorado wins he would have some ground to catch up on Makar and MacKinnon in the Conn Smythe race, but he is at the very least in the discussion.

[Related: Avalanche-Lightning to meet in Stanley Cup Final]

7. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning. Stamkos scored four goals over the last four games of the Eastern Conference Final, including the only two goals in a 2-1 win in their series-clinching Game 6 win, to help the Lightning complete the comeback against the New York Rangers. Overall he has nine goals in 17 games this postseason and has been a major part of the newly formed top line with Kucherov and Palat. With Brayden Point sidelined and the depth not as strong as it has been in recent years the Lightning really needed their superstars to shine this postseason. Including Stamkos. They all have.

8. Devon Toews, Colorado Avalanche. Do not call him underrated. He is just a really good player, a bonafide top-pairing defenseman, and having a sensational playoff run for the Avalanche. He and Makar are a dominant duo, and while Makar is the one that mostly drives the bus for that pairing Toews is an outstanding player in his own right. And he is having a great postseason. One of the many trade steals for Joe Sakic and the Avalanche over the past few years. He is great in the Avalanche transition game and has been outstanding offensively.

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    Sharks goalie James Reimer declines to wear Pride jersey

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    San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer won’t take part in pregame warmups Saturday night, saying the team’s decision to wear Pride-themed jerseys in support of the LGBTQ community runs counter to his religious beliefs.

    Reimer said in a statement Saturday that he made the decision based on his Christian beliefs, adding that he “always strived to treat everyone with respect” and that members of the LGBTQ community should be welcome in hockey.

    “In this specific instance, I am choosing not to endorse something that is counter to my personal convictions, which are based on the Bible, the highest authority in life,” Reimer said.

    Reimer is the second NHL player this season to refuse to take part in warmups with Pride-themed jerseys, with Philadelphia’s Ivan Provorov declining to in January. Reimer was not slated to start in Saturday night’s home game against the New York Islanders, which is Pride night.

    Additionally, the New York Rangers opted not to wear Pride jerseys or use Pride stick tape as part of their night in January despite previously advertising that plan.

    The Sharks said in a statement that they are proud to host Pride Night, saying the event reinforces the team’s commitment to inclusiveness.

    “As we promote these standards, we also acknowledge and accept the rights of individuals to express themselves, including how or whether they choose to express their beliefs, regardless of the cause or topic,” the team said in a statement. “As an organization, we will not waver in our support of the LGBTQIA+ community and continue to encourage others to engage in active allyship.”

    The You Can Play Project, which works to promote inclusiveness in sports, said the organization was disappointed in Reimer’s actions.

    “Religion and respect are not in conflict with each other, and we are certainly disappointed when religion is used as a reason to not support our community,” the organization said. “Wearing pride jerseys, like any celebration jersey worn, is not about the personal feelings of an athlete; rather the communication from the team that a community is welcome in the arena and the sport.”

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    Panarin, Shesterkin lead Rangers to 6-0 rout of Penguins

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    NEW YORK (AP) Mika Zibanejad had a goal and two assists, Artemi Panarin scored twice and Igor Shesterkin made 33 saves as the New York Rangers routed Pittsburgh 6-0 on Saturday night for their second win over the Penguins in three days.

    Vladimir Tarasenko, Chris Kreider and Jacob Trouba also scored for the surging Rangers, who have won nine of their last 11 home games and are 12-4-0 in their past 16 at Madison Square Garden.

    Shesterkin won his fifth straight and posted his second shutout this season. He nimbly denied Pittsburgh forward Mikael Granland with a sprawling save five minutes into the third period to preserve the shutout, the 10th of his career. His other one this season was a 1-0 home win over Philadelphia on Nov. 1.

    “When you put in hard and honest work, miracles happen,” Shesterkin said through a translator. ”We played wonderfully today – scored many, many goals. Honestly, I hope the fans loved it. We’re playing for them.”

    The Penguins lost their third straight and trail the Rangers by 12 points for third place in the Metropolitan Division. Pittsburgh, still in wild-card position, is trying to reach the playoffs for the 17th straight time.

    “Tonight was a humbling experience for all of us,” coach Mike Sullivan said. ”At this time of year, you have to have a short memory. We still have control of our destiny.”

    Patrick Kane and defenseman K’Andre Miller also had two assists apiece as New York improved to 7-1-1 in its last nine home games against Pittsburgh. The Rangers are five points behind the second-place New Jersey Devils, who lost at Florida on Saturday.

    “This was a big game for our goalie and our team,” Panarin said. “If you work at playing the right way, you have opportunities for goals.”

    Since Dec. 5, when they turned around their season with a 6-4 comeback win at home over St. Louis, the Rangers are 29-9-5.

    As he did on Thursday when the Rangers beat the Penguins 4-2, Zibanejad opened the scoring. He got his team-leading 36th goal at 5:10 of the first, beating Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry. Trouba and Miller assisted.

    Panarin made it 2-0 at 19:49 on the power play, whipping the puck past Jarry from the left circle off a pass from Adam Fox.

    Tarasenko increased the lead at 3:54 of the second with his fifth goal since joining the Rangers in a trade with St. Louis on Feb. 9. Tarasenko has points in 10 of his first 18 games with the Rangers.

    Kreider made it 4-0 at 6:43 with his 31st goal and third in two games against the Penguins. Kane and Vincent Trocheck assisted on Kreider’s 260th career goal, which moved the Rangers forward within two of Vic Hadfield for fifth place on the franchise list.

    New York won Thursday when Kreider scored the go-ahead goal in the third and added an empty-netter.

    After Casey DeSmith replaced Jarry in net following Kreider’s goal, Trouba beat the replacement with a sharp-angle shot at 8:39 for his eighth to increase the margin to 5-0. Trouba has points in six of his last eight games.

    Panarin scored again at 16:38 of the second – his 22nd goal of the season – to make it 6-0, with assists to Kane and Filip Chytil.

    “We’re building chemistry, building every day and every game,” Kane said.

    Panarin has points in eight of his last 10 games and leads the Rangers with 77 points overall, while Kane has seven points in his last six games.

    “It’s nice to see that many great players on your team,” added Panarin, whose first two NHL seasons were played alongside Kane with the Chicago Blackhawks. “We’re happy tonight.”

    Zibanejad assisted on goals by Tarasenko and Trouba and has 25 points – including 14 goals – over his last 20 games.

    “It was just one of those nights when the puck goes in for us,” Zibanejad said. “And obviously Igor gives us a boost making all those saves.”

    NOTES: The Penguins were missing defenseman Jeff Petry after he was hit with an unpenalized elbow from Rangers forward Tyler Motte on Thursday. … Pittsburgh also scratched defenseman Jan Rutta and forward Dalton Heinen and played defenseman Mark Friedman for the first time since Feb. 11. … The Rangers were without injured defenseman Ryan Lindgren for the 10th straight game.


    Penguins: Host the Ottawa Senators on Monday.

    Rangers: Host the Nashville Predators on Sunday night.

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    Coyotes sign Shane Doan’s son to entry-level contract

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    TEMPE, Ariz. — Josh Doan is following his father’s footsteps into professional hockey.

    The Arizona Coyotes signed the 21-year-old forward to a three-year entry-level contract, beginning with the 2023-24 NHL season. He will report to the Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL and play his first game against the Calgary Wranglers.

    Doan’s father, Shane, played 21 seasons with the franchise, many of those as captain, and followed it from Winnipeg to the desert in 1996. Shane Doan now serves as Arizona’s chief hockey development officer.

    The Coyotes drafted Josh Doan in the second round of the 2021, but he opted to play for the hometown Arizona State Sun Devils.

    Josh Doan set school records for goals (12) and assists (25) as a freshman last season. He had 16 goals and 22 assists in 39 games with Arizona State this season.

    The 6-foot-1, 183-pounder also played two seasons for the Chicago Steel of the USHL.

    Blackhawks forward Cole Guttman has shoulder surgery

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    CHICAGO — Chicago Blackhawks forward Cole Guttman had surgery on his right shoulder.

    The team said the operation was performed in Los Angeles. Team physician Michael Terry said the 23-year-old Guttman is expected “to be out of hockey activities for approximately four months.”

    Guttman had been a pleasant surprise for rebuilding Chicago. He made his NHL debut last month and finished the season with four goals and two assists in 14 games.

    Guttman was selected by Tampa Bay in the 2017 draft. He agreed to a two-year contract with Chicago in August 2022 that had a $950,000 salary cap hit.