Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas won the Conn Smythe in 2011
The Conn Smythe Trophy is awarded annually to the "player judged most valuable to his team during the Stanley Cup playoffs."
Named for former Toronto Maple Leafs owner/general manger/coach and Hall of Famer Conn Smythe, the award is unique in that it is awarded based on performance throughout the entire playoffs and not just an individual series, as in the other major sports.
As the Stanley Cup playoffs are pared down to the final four teams, some early front-runners for the coveted award are emerging.
Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings
Quick has been stellar in the playoffs, as the eighth-seeded Kings have gone on a magical run.
His 8-1 record, 1.55 goals-against average and .949 save percentage make him an obvious candidate.
New Jersey's Ilya Kovalchuk
It's hard to believe that Ilya Kovalchuk was once considered a selfish, one-dimensional player who couldn't win in the postseason.
Kovalchuk has bought into head coach Peter DeBoer's system and emerged as a leader for New Jersey, all while registering five goals and seven assists through the first two rounds.
He's scored key goals and played extremely well under the pressure of two overtime games in which the Devils faced elimination against the Panthers. His 12 points are also tops on a Devils team that steamrolled Philadelphia in Round 2.
For all his offensive prowess, Kovalchuk adds value in other ways, as well. Like the rest of the team, he was vicious on the forecheck during the Flyers series—a big reason why New Jersey advanced in five games.
Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes
If there ever was a series destined to produce epic goaltending, it's the Coyotes-Kings Western Conference final.
Smith has recorded two shutouts in Phoenix's eight postseason wins to date, also posting a 1.77 goals-against average and a .948 save percentage. It's not inconceivable that the winning goaltender in this series will eventually hoist the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings
Kings captain Dustin Brown has been the heart and soul of this Cinderella Los Angeles team.
He’s got 11 points in nine games, six goals (two of them short-handed) and a plus-nine rating.
Brown has also electrified his team by delivering some of the hardest hits of the postseason.
Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
As Lundqvist goes, so go the Rangers. The Hart Trophy finalist was sensational in the regular season, leading the Rangers to the Atlantic Division title and the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Lundqvist has continued his outstanding play in the postseason, even as the Rangers offense has struggled, registering just over two goals per game.
His 1.73 goals-against average and .936 save percentage during the playoffs put him in elite company, and his triple-overtime win in Game 3 vs. Washington in which he stopped 48-of-49 shots was one for the ages.
Zach Parise of the New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey captain is having a solid postseason stat-wise, with four goals and four assists, but that only tells part of the story.
His workmanlike attitude and willingness to do the tough, unglamorous things that often lead to scoring chances make him a unique star.
The Devils wouldn't be in the Eastern Conference finals without Parise's gritty play.
It's still early, and there are two full rounds left to play.
With the propensity of upsets and overtime games so far this postseason, there should be ample opportunity for someone to step up and separate themselves from the Conn Smythe pack.