NHL Playoffs 2012: Devils Defenseman Bryce Salvador Is Conn Smythe Material

Al DanielCorrespondent IIMay 28, 2012

NEWARK, NJ - MAY 21:  Bryce Salvador #24 of the New Jersey Devils celebrates his first period goal in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Prudential Center on May 21, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Bryce Salvador only charged up three points, all of them assists, within the first eight games of the New Jersey Devils’ 2012 Stanley Cup playoff run. But those were more than most would have expected out of him, and they happened to come within New Jersey’s first two wins of the opening round against Florida.

And since the stay-at-home defenseman began to moonlight as a contributor in the other zone, the team has improved to 8-0 when he appears on the score sheet. The Devils are otherwise 4-6 in this postseason.

Translation: Salvador has played a two-way part in two-thirds of New Jersey’s victories en route to a berth in the Cup final.

The last time New Jersey won the Cup, its victory dashed the dream of a Cinderella squad from southern California backed by an otherworldly goaltender. Yet despite the Anaheim Mighty Ducks’ Game 7 loss, Jean-Sebastien Giguere was still named the 2003 playoff MVP.

A similar scenario looks quite conceivable in 2012 with Jonathan Quick backboning and backstopping the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings to a date with the Devils. But if the Kings fall short and if there is any justice, the same mistake from nine years ago will not be repeated when the time comes to dole out the Conn Smythe Trophy.

A playoff MVP award should be specifically reserved for the player deemed most critical to a team’s successful bid for a championship. And for the Devils, if everything continues to trend like it has for at least the past month, Salvador just might fit that description.

For the better part of the last two rounds, Salvador has hardly strayed from his duties on goaltender Martin Brodeur’s property. Nonetheless, he has also found time and energy to make critical contributions against the Flyers and Rangers.

He has had a hand in two icebreakers, a power-play goal, three equalizers that directly preceded the decider in a Devils’ come-from-behind victory and the clincher in Game 2 of the conference finals.

With a total of three goals in as many rounds, Salvador is tied with three members of the freshly dismissed New York Rangers for the postseason lead among defensemen. His distinctions from Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Anton Stralman are his 14.3 percent shooting success rate and the fact that each of his goals have come at even strength or while shorthanded.

Meanwhile, his plus-10 playoff rating is the best among all New Jersey skaters knotted with that of forthcoming opponent Drew Doughty for the best among blueliners.

He has thrown at least one hit in 16 out of 18 games for a total of 37. In one of those two hitless outings, Game 6 of the conference finals, he logged a playoff-high four blocked shots to bring his tournament total up to 23.

To date, no other Devils defenseman has packed quite as copious a combination of blocks and body-checks. And Salvador has managed to reward his grunt work by partaking in several resultant scoring chances.

Naturally, there are other worthy MVP candidates in the New Jersey dressing room. David Clarkson has three game-winning goals along with seven assists and a team-high 51 hits. And the scoring of Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise speaks for itself, although those two have had defensive shortcomings.

But assuming he duplicates his second- and third-round performances in the fourth round and co-pilots the Devils to the Cup, Salvador is in a position to tip the scale his way.