Blackhawks vs. Bruins: Breaking Down Early Conn Smythe Favorites
It's still early, but if the first two games were any indication of what's to come, the 2013 Stanley Cup Final is going to go down as one of the most entertaining postseason series in recent memory.
Both goaltenders have been stellar, unsung foot soldiers Andrew Shaw and Daniel Paille have emerged as heroes, and for the most part both the Bruins and Blackhawks have been superb for nearly 180 minutes of hockey.
As is the case every year, it's utterly impossible to accurately predict the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the playoffs until the final buzzer of the deciding tilt sounds, and the Cup is handed out.
But given how spectacular some of the individual performances have been thus far, it's safe to say there are a handful of frontrunners who are all capable of taking home the award given to the year's most clutch player.
Few have David Krejci pegged as the winner of the Conn Smythe favorite thus far, but as the leading scorer of the postseason with 23 points in 18 games, doesn't he have to be in the mix?
Yes, it is certainly worth considering that 13 of those points came against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Bruins' seven-game thriller of a series in Round 1, but if the Czech Olympian picks up a couple of goals between now and the end of the series, he has to be in contention.
Unlike the NBA, NFL and MLB, the individual award handed out following the end of the final game of the playoffs is for the most valuable player of the entire postseason, not simply the final series.
That has to be working in Krejci's favor, because with a five-point lead on the rest of the field in points, and a postseason-leading nine goals, he's put together a pretty impressive case to be considered.
For a goaltender who was once thought of as the weak link on an otherwise immensely team, Corey Crawford has been outstanding thus far.
With a league-leading 1.72 goals against average and a sterling .935 save percentage, Crawford has not only played his way into Conn Smythe contention, but also into the conversation with regards to who should be starting in goal for Team Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics (assuming the NHL allows its players to go).
That being said, I'm not sure he's outplayed Tuukka Rask to this point, but if Chicago does indeed win the franchise's second Cup in four years, he's got as good a shot as anyone else on the Blackhawks.
Simply put, Tuukka Rask has been a rock in net for Claude Julien's Bruins, who have been absolutely unstoppable since spotting Toronto a three-goal lead midway through Game 7 of their opening-round series.
Rask's lead the postseason in save percentage, but more importantly, the 26-year-old has lost all of three games since the beginning of Round 2, validating the Bruins' decision to keep him over 2011 Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas.
He's been everything and more the Bruins could possibly have asked for all year long, and if he can somehow lift his team to a second Cup in three seasons, he's almost a lock to get the Conn Smythe.
At one point, it seemed as if Slovak sniper Marian Hossa would have to settle for a fistful of frustrating trips to the Stanley Cup Final, until he finally helped Chicago to the summit of the sport in 2010.
Now, with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews each having gone through miniature offensive slumps, Hossa has picked up the slack offensively, tallying a team-high (tied with Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane) 15 points.
He's a long shot, especially because Kane has woken up, but Hossa's generally sound two-way play has to earn him some consideration.
Until very recently, Patrick Kane wasn't in the running for this award at all, but that changed quickly once the Buffalo native stole the show late in the Western Conference Final against the Kings.
There, Kane suddenly came to life in Game 4 with a goal, but exploded in the decisive Game 5 with a hat trick, including a beautiful series-winning overtime goal off a one-timer, courtesy of Toews.
Like Hossa and Krejci, Kane's only got an outside shot at the Conn Smythe if the goaltenders keep playing as well as they have, but given that this is the same player that scored the Cup-winning overtime goal in 2010, it'd be foolish to count him out.
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