Below are my top 10 nominees for playoff excellence:
No. 10 Daniel Girardi
The big, brave defenseman for the New York Rangers sacrifices his body to take away shooting lanes like the best defenders in the NHL. He also finishes his hits at all times, making him a coach's favourite on a blue-collar team.
No. 9 Mikkel Boedker
The young Dane has arrived big time in the NHL thus far. He led his Coyotes team with two game-winners, including one big goal in double OT against the Blackhawks. He has proven to coach Dave Tippett that he belongs in the big leagues, and he is very dynamic for the Coyotes.
No. 8 Willie Mitchell
Almost for certain, many people would not have considered Mitchell to be in the discussion for a Conn Smythe Trophy. Due to his success rate as a shutdown defenseman, it is important to recognize the fact that he has eliminated the Sedin line, Andy McDonald line and Ray Whitney's line in the playoffs so far. The Kings are successful when Mitchell is making the defense go to work.
No. 7 Zach Parise
The New Jersey Devils go as far as Zach Parise brings them. The captain of the Devils drives the net hard, he is strong in all three zones and his speed can break open the game. With Parise, he motivates his teammates with setting a good example, and he is supported by an enviable veteran leadership group in New Jersey.
No. 6 Marek Zidlicky
A trade-deadline acquisition, Zidlicky is making Devils GM Lou Lamorello look like a genius for adding him to the Devils. He is a very intelligent player at moving the puck with crisp passes, and he quarterbacks the Devils' power play very effectively. Now he's also logging big minutes on a thin Devils defense corps.
No. 5 Henrik Lundqvist
The Rangers have known Lundqvist for his timely saves and jaw-dropping saves in net for their team. This season, Lundqvist is voted as a finalist for the Hart Memorial, Vezina and Ted Lindsay awards. It's a very special feat for a goaltender to be nominated in so many categories in one season. In the Eastern Conference, Lundqvist is holding the game within reach for his skaters.
No. 4 Ilya Kovalchuk
The Devils' prized forward has never been past the second round of playoffs, and he has shouldered the load for his team this year with the second highest scoring lead for all active players, with 12 points. Despite playing with a herniated disc in his back, Kovalchuk has been a major contributor in the playoffs. Very impressive for the skilled Russian.
No. 3 Mike Smith
The Coyotes have relied on goaltender Mike Smith for an entire season. Now in the playoffs, Smith seems to be warming up to playing exceptional hockey for the Coyotes. With a save rating of 788 saves in 800 shots, he is ranked second behind Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick in save percentage.
No. 2 Jonathan Quick
The Los Angeles Kings goalie has been stellar for the team, and he has carried them at certain points of the game to make sure his team had an advantage to win the game. For Quick, he had never been past the second round, and he is making a strong case of why he deserves the Vezina Trophy for Most Outstanding Goalie in June.
No. 1 Dustin Brown
Kings captain Dustin Brown has been a focal point for the past three-to-four months. His name was often related to trade-deadline rumors, and his stock dropped considerably after a very mediocre regular season with the Kings this year. However, with high energy, high motivation and a high skill set, Dustin Brown has transformed multiple series and become that decisive factor in winning hockey games. He has scored five go-ahead goals for the Kings so far.