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NHL Playoffs: Claude Giroux and 6 Other Early Conn Smythe Favorites

Tim MackayCorrespondent IApril 22, 2012

NHL Playoffs: Claude Giroux and 6 Other Early Conn Smythe Favorites

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    With three series already in the books in the 2012 NHL playoffs and several others on the brink, it's a good time to look at the best players from the first round. 

    Beyond the incredibly entertaining Flyers-Penguins series, the goaltending has been excellent, and it seems like every other game goes to overtime. 

    As a hockey fan, you can't ask for much more.

    If the Conn Smythe was awarded today, one player might dominate the vote, but happily, it isn't won after one round. 

    Here's a look at the players with the inside track on the award.

Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

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    Holtby has to be one of the best stories of the playoffs so far. 

    Heading into the Capitals' first-round series against the Boston Bruins, the young goaltender had only 21 career starts at the NHL level. 

    But he's outplayed last year's playoff MVP, Tim Thomas. 

    Holtby has been brilliant in every game, posting an astounding 1.86 GAA and .946 save percentage. He's been the Caps best player and has provided his team with the consistency they've lacked in recent years. 

Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators

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    Another surprising storyline is the giant-killers from Ottawa. 

    The Sens have pushed the Rangers to the brink and have done so with feisty physical play and timely scoring. 

    But Craig Anderson has been the difference in the series so far.

    Anderson has been particularly good on the penalty kill, stopping 34 of the 37 shots he's faced. A goaltender is always a team's best penalty-killer, and in a tight series, that can make all the difference.

    The follically-challenged goaltender isn't getting too much love from the Ottawa Sun, who ran a hair-loss ad above a cover photo of Anderson. 

Andy McDonald, St. Louis Blues

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    McDonald has taken a page out of the Doug Gilmour handbook. 

    He's listed as being 5'11" and 185 pounds, but he sure looks a lot smaller. 

    That doesn't seem to affect him when the toughness and physicality of the playoffs arrive, however. 

    The 2007 Stanley Cup champion was the most productive Blues player in their five-game series win over the San Jose Sharks, including a monster four-point effort in a crucial Game 3 win. 

    He's one of those players you love to watch, and the young Blues will rely on McDonald for leadership as they move forward. 

Mikkel Boedker, Phoenix Coyotes

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    It might be odd to see a player without a regulation goal on a list of Conn Smythe candidates.

    But Mikkel Boedker has been a definitive difference-maker in the Coyotes' first-round series against Chicago.

    Each game has gone to overtime, and Boedker has won the Coyotes two games. There are some players that simply know how to get the job done when it matters most, and Boedker seems to have that skill.

    It's undeniable that he's been incredibly valuable and a big reason why the Coyotes have a chance to knock off the favoured Blackhawks. 

Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

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    Look up consistency in a dictionary, and you'll find a picture of Pekka Rinne. 

    It's very rare that a team wins an NHL playoff series without their goalie outplaying his counterpart. Ilya Bryzgalov struggled in the first round, but outplayed Marc-Andre Fleury and the Flyers won. 

    It may be a bold statement, but Pekka Rinne was the reason the Predators beat the Detroit Red Wings. 

    While Jimmy Howard was uncomfortable and shaky, Rinne was rock-solid and often brilliant in the Nashville cage. 

    It's time Rinne got a little more credit and attention for how important he is to Nashville's success. 

Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

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    If the award was handed out today, there wouldn't be any debate. 

    The best player in the first round of the NHL playoffs has been Claude Giroux, hands down. 

    Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette described Giroux as the "best player in the world" after eliminating the Pittsburgh Penguins and praised his versatility. 

    Not only is Giroux comfortably in the scoring lead with 14 points in six games, but he's a huge part of the Flyers penalty-kill and has the competitiveness needed to be a playoff hero.

    To quote the football film The Replacements: "Winners always want the ball when the game's on the line." Giroux embodies that competitive mentality. 

    And if things keep going the way they have been, "Little Mario," as Jaromir Jagr calls him, is well on his way to making history.  

Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings

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    Jonathan Quick hasn't lost a step coming off of his outstanding regular season. 

    It's one thing to post stat lines like 1.76/.952 in the playoffs, but to do so against one of the best offensive teams in the NHL is another. 

    The Vancouver Canucks had the fifth-most productive offense in the regular season in 2011-12, but Quick has held them to only seven goals in their opening series.

    His steadiness has made Roberto Luongo look shakier than Dan Cloutier and is the main reason the Kings are on the verge of a big upset. 

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