NHL Playoffs 2012: Updated Conn Smythe Trophy Favorites
Last week we took at look at the early favorites to win the Conn Smythe Trophy this year.
We are now nearly at the halfway mark of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and five teams remain in contention to win the most famous trophy in North American professional sports.
Here is an updated look at the top contenders to win the award. Remember that for now, I am restricting this list to only one player per team (I will mention other players who are also in contention). The restriction will be eliminated when we know the two teams who will be playing in the finals. Also keep in mind that for now, the top contenders are presented in no particular order.
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The Kings have advanced to the Conference Finals for the first time since 1993, and they've done it in very impressive fashion. The Kings are 8-1 in the playoffs and have upset the President's Trophy winner and the second seed in the Western Conference.
All season long they have struggled to score goals and would not have even qualified for the postseason without Quick's outstanding play.
The biggest reason for the Kings' success has been the goaltending of Quick. His playoff numbers speak for themselves. He leads all starters with a .949 save percentage and a stellar 1.55 GAA, and he's done it against top competition. Quick is clearly the top Conn Smythe Trophy candidate on the Kings.
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Like Quick, Lundqvist has been the key to his team's success all season long. "King Henrik" is the best player on the Rangers. The team's style of play is designed to win games 3-2 and 2-1 with Lundqvist shining and the team scoring just enough goals to earn a victory.
Thus far in the playoffs, he has a 1.73 GAA and a save percentage of .936. In both the Senators series and the Capitals series, Lundqvist has kept his team in games when they were being outplayed for long stretches of time.
The Stanley Cup is the only major milestone Lundqvist has yet to attain in his stellar NHL career. If the Rangers reach the Cup Finals this year, they will rely on him to continue his outstanding play in goal.
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Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac are in a very tight race to be the Devils' Smythe Trophy favorite with goalie Martin Brodeur running a fairly distant third. As of now I have to give a very slight edge to Kovalchuk.
The former Thrashers star has two more points than Zajac and like him, he has scored some key goals and contributed to the New Jersey power play, which has been a key component to their success in the playoffs.
The other area Kovalchuk has a slight edge over Zajac in right now is in shots on goal. The Russian sniper has 35 shots on goal in the postseason as compared to 28 for Zajac. Teams need to account for Kovalchuk a bit more, and he makes them change their game plan a bit more than Zajac does.
Again, it's a very tight race right now between Kovalchuk and Zajac. Whoever plays better in the conference finals and beyond (if the Devils get there) will be the Devils' most likely candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy.
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Very few experts picked the Phoenix Coyotes to win their division this year. One reason was that their goaltending was considered a big question mark. By the end of the season, Mike Smith helped turn that question mark into a definitive exclamation point.
The Desert Dogs have already ousted the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators, and Smith's goaltending continues to be the biggest reason for their stunning success.
Smith is 8-3 in the playoffs this season so far with a 1.77 GAA and a save percentage of .948. His strong play has given the Coyotes confidence and is the main reason they have advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.
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Alexander Ovechkin has picked up his play of late, but rookie goalie Braden Holtby remains the Caps' top Smythe Trophy candidate as the team prepares to play Game 7 of their series against the Rangers.
Holtby has already proven he thrives in pressure situations by winning the Calder Cup championship, and now he is demonstrating that he can play with the big boys.
Holtby rarely allows juicy rebounds and also bounces back quickly from bad games. The Caps have not lost back-to-back contests in the playoffs yet this year.
Numbers wise Holtby has a 1.95 GAA and a .935 save percentage, and he is the biggest reason the Capitals have already eliminated the defending Stanley Cup champions and are one game away from ousting the top seed in the East.