Every year in the NHL playoffs there are unsung heroes—stars or superstars that elevate to another level. Goaltenders that lead their teams to heights no one expected and sometimes even championships.
The latter two usual garner MVP attention and many times have the Conn Smythe Trophy presented to them after the final game of the playoffs is complete.
The 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs have seen Jonathan Toews run away with the MVP talks through the first 3 rounds. His point production has slowed in the finals with only 1 assist and -1 rating through 3 games. However he is still the front-runner and if Chicago ends up hoisting Lord Stanley's mug more than likely Toews the captain of the Blackhawks will be presented with 2 sets of hardware.
Some other names have started to enter into race for playoff MVP. Duncan Keith and Antti Niemi and for the Flyers, Mike Richards and Chris Pronger certainly have earned the right to be considered playoff MVPs.
In the background, a player whose name and reputation is nowhere near the heights of the players listed above is starting to make some of the voters lean in a different direction, or at least should have people thinking twice before they submit their vote.
Claude Giroux's flare for being at his best when the games are most important has become a reality in these playoffs. The 22-year-old Giroux is averaging a point per game in the playoffs (20 points in 20 games).
On the surface that may not seem that impressive. It has him seven points behind Toews for the overall lead. He's ranked fourth on his team for points behind the leader, Danny Briere. But once you dig a little deeper you start to understand just how impressive his playoff performance has been and how important he has been to the surprising run of the Philadelphia Flyers. A team that made the playoffs on the final day of the regular season with a shootout win over the New York Rangers—the winner scored by none other than Giroux, imagine that.
The Flyers are a deep team at the forward position, thus the youngster Giroux is relegated to centre the third line and plays on the second power play unit, with some penalty killing duty.
Through the playoffs he has averaged 18:44 of ice time per game. This is a full 2:08 less than Jonathan Toews. Mike Richards averages 21:53, three minutes more a game than Giroux. Giroux averages 3:34 on the power plau each game and he certainly makes the most of it with 11 of his 20 points coming with the man advantage.
Giroux not only plays less on average than Toews or Richards, but his line mates have been a mix of Arron Asham, James vanReimsdyk and Dan Carcillo throughout the playoffs. Not exactly players at the same skill level of Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien, or Richards' line mates of Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter. However Giroux makes these guys look better. There could be an argument that no team in the playoffs has had as an effective third line as the Flyers. Probably a huge reason why they're in the Stanley Cup finals.
Another factor that has to weigh in favor of Giroux is that with all the line matching that coaches participate in during the course of a series, his unit is usually out against either of the top two units on the opposition team. Even with the responsibility of ensuring his unit is keeping the puck out of the net (as proven by his +9 rating good enough for third amongst NHL forwards in the 2010 playoffs) he has managed to contribute nine goals and 11 assists to the Flyers offensive attack.
Even after the entire statistical breakdown it really comes down to what the essences of playoffs MVP is all about. That is showing up when it's most important.
Looking at the turning point games or the crucial game/moment of a series during the Flyers' run this post-season you can almost always see Giroux's impact on the score sheet. Round 1, Game 5 against New Jersey with a chance for the Flyers to end the series with a depleted line up Giroux contributes two goals and one assist for three points.
Against the Boston Bruins in the final four games of the series after falling behind three games to nil. Giroux contributed one goal and three assists for four points. Including a shift in the final two minutes of the third period where he controlled the puck in the Bruins zone for a total of 31 seconds with big Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk unable to strip the puck from him. All but ending any chance for the Bruins to tie the game up with the extra attacker.
Move to Round 3 and the Montreal Canadiens. Game 4, Philly up two games to one with a chance to apply the proverbial stranglehold and head back to Philly up 3-1. Giroux scores two goals including the game winner; in all Giroux has six points in that series.
Finally, Game 3 of the finals, in Philadelphia with the Flyers needing a win to stave off another 3 games deficit. Claude Giroux starts a breakout play from the Flyers blue line, head mans the puck to Briere and drives the net finishing off a beautiful passing play with a deft tip that got by Niemi for the overtime winner. Ending the night with a huge win to go along with his two assists for a three-point night.
The Flyers and their fans hope the Stanley Cup finals are not decided in less than six games and if the Flyers end up winning the 2010 Stanley Cup my guess is Claude Giroux will have more impact on the remaining games.
The race for the Conn Smythe has another candidate. I just hope I'm not the only one that noticing.