Stanley Cup Final 2013: Updated Conn Smythe Award Rankings
They are playing for what is probably the most famous trophy in North American sports.
But while the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks go at it for the Stanley Cup, there is additional prestigious hardware to be won.
The most valuable player of the Stanley Cup playoffs will bring home the Conn Smythe Trophy. A number of candidates have emerged from these two teams, and while the award is usually given to a player from the victorious team, it is not a requirement.
Jean-Sebastian Giguere of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim was the last player to take home the Conn Smythe from a non-winning team in 2003. The Ducks lost the Stanley Cup Final to the New Jersey Devils in seven games.
Here's a look at the top eight Conn Smythe candidates who have emerged thus far.
8. Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks
Brent Seabrook has earned himself a mention as a long shot contender because he has a tendency to make the spectacular play.
He is not the most consistent player on either team, but Seabrook can be a difference-maker at the most important time. He won Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final for Chicago when he blasted home a slap shot nearly 10 minutes into overtime.
That goal gave the Blackhawks a 6-5 victory and allowed them to tie the series at 2-2. If the Hawks had not won the game, they would have returned to Chicago with a 3-1 deficit while facing a formidable opponent.
Seabrook also scored the series-winning goal in overtime for the Blackhawks against the Detroit Red Wings in the conference semifinal round.
Seabrook is a hard-shooting, right-handed defenseman who is usually paired with Duncan Keith. He has three goals and one assist in the playoffs, but if he can secure another overtime goal, he may get some consideration for the award because he's such a sensational clutch performer.
7. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks
There is no doubt that Corey Crawford had a tough game against the Boston Bruins when he let in five goals on 33 shots.
The Bruins have targeted his glove hand and all five of their goals went in that area. Nevertheless, the Blackhawks got an overtime win.
Crawford appears to be in some trouble, and head coach Joel Quenneville had to face questions about whether he would consider replacing Crawford with backup Ray Emery. Quenneville dismissed those questions immediately.
That's because Crawford has been sensational throughout most of the playoff run. He has a 1.86 goals against average and a .931 save percentage along with a shutout. If he can revert to form in the final games in the series and the Blackhawks are victorious, he has a chance to come home with the Conn Smythe Trophy.
6. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
Zdeno Chara is the anchor of the Boston Bruins defense. Head coach Claude Julien relies on him to provide leadership and dominating play in front of goalie Tuukka Rask.
Chara has been superb throughout the playoffs. The Bruins are perhaps the most physical team in the NHL, and Chara sets the tone. The 6'9", 255-pound defenseman is a strong body checker, but he is not limited to physical play.
He is a sharp defender. He can carry the puck out of his own zone, man the point and fire the puck harder than anyone in the game.
Chara has the numbers to back up his status as a legitimate Conn Smythe candidate. He has two goals, 12 assists and a plus-10 rating.
He will also stand up for himself and his teammates if he believes any opponent is taking inappropriate liberties. He faced down Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final, and the league's most explosive player never found his game after that, as the Penguins were bounced out of the playoffs in four straight games.
5. David Krejci, Boston Bruins
David Krejci has once again been a major scoring force in the postseason.
Krejci has been on a torrid pace since the playoffs started. He had a hat trick against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the opening round, and he scored two goals in the Eastern Conference opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Krejci has nine goals and 15 assists for a league-leading 24 points. He has the ability to hold on to the puck just a split second longer than most players, and that allows him to make the proper play. While he does not have a blistering shot, he is quite accurate with it and he can find openings. He is also a deadly accurate passer.
Krejci was also the top postseason scorer in 2011, when he scored 23 points as the Bruins defeated the Vancouver Canucks and won the Stanley Cup.
4. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
Patrick Kane can change the flow of any game in an instant.
He may be quite maddening at times when he starts to float and stays away from the action, but when he has the puck on his stick, he is nearly impossible to slow down in the offensive zone. Kane has the ability to escape the clutches of bigger, stronger defensemen and cut to the middle of the ice where he can get off his hard wrister or slap shot.
Kane is the Blackhawks' leading scorer in the playoffs. He has seven goals and 10 assists, and his double-overtime goal in Game 5 against the Los Angeles Kings eliminated the defending champions from the postseason.
3. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
Goaltenders have won the Conn Smythe Trophy the last two years, and Tuukka Rask will likely be one of the primary contenders if the Bruins win this year.
Rask has been brilliant since the end of the first round. He won a goaltending duel with Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers in the conference semifinal and then he put on one of the greatest exhibitions in recent goaltending history when he held the Pittsburgh Penguins to two goals in four games.
Rask got lit up by the Blackhawks for six goals in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, but it doesn't seem like he will have that kind of game again before the end of the series. Rask has 1.83 goals against average, a .941 save percentage and three shutouts.
When Tim Thomas won the Conn Smythe two years ago for the Bruins, he had a 1.98 GAA and a .940 save percentage along with four shutouts.
2. Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks
Patrick Sharp has thrown himself into the first rank of Conn Smythe contenders with his ability to put the puck in the net.
Sharp scored his league-leading 10th goal of the postseason when he scored a third-period power play goal against the Bruins in Game 4. He also has six assists and is willing to do the dirty work down low to create opportunities for himself and his teammates
He is one of the fastest skaters on the Blackhawks, and he uses his speed to accelerate away from defenders and create small openings that allow him to get open and fire challenging and hard shots.
1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
Patrice Bergeron is Claude Julien's most trusted player. Whenever he is on the ice, he will make plays on both the offensive and defensive ends that will give the Bruins the best chance to win.
He is a spectacular defensive player and was a finalist for the Selke Trophy that Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks won. Bergeron is the league's best faceoff specialist and is winning 62.2 percent of his draws in the postseason.
Bergeron has scored nine goals and six assists and is the Bruins' Mr. Clutch. He scored the tying and winning goal in the miracle comeback over the Toronto Maple Leafs, and he also had an overtime goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final.
If the Blackhawks are going to win the Stanley Cup, they are going to have to find a way to slow down Bergeron.