NHL Playoffs 2012: Conn Smythe Contenders

Brad KurtzbergContributor IMay 18, 2012

NHL Playoffs 2012: Conn Smythe Contenders

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    The race for the Conn Smythe Trophy continues to heat up as we advance deeper and deeper into the 2012 NHL playoffs.

    There are only four teams left in the hunt for the Stanley Cup, and the playoff MVP will certainly come from one of them. With so few teams remaining, it is now possible to have more than one nominee from each team at this stage. 

    Here are the top five players in the hunt for the Conn Smythe Trophy as of now. I will update the list again next week. Again, the players here are presented in no particular order right now.

Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings

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    The Kings have been the surprise team in the 2012 NHL playoffs. The eighth seed in the Western Conference is just one game away from ousting the three top-ranked teams in the West and advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals.

    Quick has followed up a great regular season with an even better playoffs. He is 11-1 so far with an outstanding 1.41 GAA and a save percentage of .951. Add two shutouts to the equation and you can see how effective Quick has been.

    The Kings are a confident bunch with Quick in the crease, and if they go on to win the Cup, Quick has to be the favorite to win the Conn Smythe.

Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings

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    Kings captain Dustin Brown has really picked up his play in the playoffs after a mediocre regular season. 

    Brown's strong play has allowed him to rise to the top of so many different statistical categories. He has 15 points, more than any player still active in the playoffs, and is tied for the league playoff lead with a plus-12 plus/minus rating. Brown also stands fourth in the league with 60 hits and has three game-winning goals already in the playoffs.

    Brown has shown true leadership skills in the playoffs and is a big reason the Kings are one game away from reaching the finals for the first time since 1993.

Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes

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    The Coyotes are long-shots to win four straight and advance to the next round, but you can't blame goalie Mike Smith for their lack of success against Los Angeles.

    Smith carried the Coyotes to the conference final with his strong play between the pipes. His playoff statistics remain impressive: a 2.02 GAA and a .942 save percentage.

Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

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    The Rangers are in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1997, and goalie Henrik Lundqvist is the biggest reason they are there.

    The Rangers have scored only two goals per game in the playoffs, the least of any of the surviving teams. But because "King Henrik" has a 1.66 GAA and a .937 save percentage, the Rangers have been able to defeat both the Senators and the Capitals and are even with the Devils in the third-round series.

    Lundqvist's consistent excellence keeps the Rangers in every game. He is by far their favorite for the Conn Smythe at this time.

Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey Devils

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    David Clarkson, Travis Zajac and Martin Brodeur all get consideration, but Ilya Kovalchuk remains the Devils' front-runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy at this point in the race.

    The Russian winger leads all Devils skaters with 13 points with six of them coming on the power play. On a team that features offensive depth and balance, Kovalchuk remains the biggest offensive threat on the team.