CHICAGO — Tyler Johnson is becoming a victim of his own success.
Tampa's little ball of thunder leads the league in postseason goals (13), even-strength goals (10), points (23) and game-winning goals (4) and has been at the top of those categories for virtually the entire playoffs. Johnson was installed as the Lightning's odds-on favorite (9-2) by Odds Shark to win the Conn Smythe Trophy before the Stanley Cup Final and has a goal and assist in three games against the Blackhawks.
Yet all it has taken is two wonderful performances from Victor Hedman, who had 40-1 odds when the Final began, to suddenly be considered worthy of the Conn Smythe.
There's nothing wrong with weighting performances more heavily the deeper we get into the postseason. Hedman had two amazing passes in Game 3 and has held Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in check for three games. But to put that on par with what Johnson has done in the entire postseason speaks to the flaws in deciding the award along with human nature to get bored far too easily with greatness.
Before Johnson's goal in Game 2 against the Blackhawks, he hadn't scored in five games. Sure, he had three assists over that span and 12 goals in 16 games before the relative drought, yet there was coach Jon Cooper fielding a question about that lack of scoring on the eve of Game 2.
"Guys go through the roller-coaster ride," Cooper said. "I don't know anybody that can score at a pace that he was going on. Look at his line, though. He may not have scored, but his line scored. He's picking up assists, he's picking up points. He's such a huge part of our team. There's not an ounce of worry about the fact that he's not scoring.
"He's been so good that when he doesn't score, it's almost the alarm goes off. That's a tribute to how he's risen in this league."
Here's what Johnson has done thus far in the postseason, broken down round-by-round.
|Tyler Johnson, round-by-round|
His line with Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat carried the Lightning through the first round while Steven Stamkos was lost and through the second round when depth scoring was practically nonexistent. If you want to place more weight on later rounds, Johnson has 11 points in his past 10 games.
What has Johnson done for Tampa lately? A lot.
This postseason has been a coming-out party for Hedman. Along with Anton Stralman, the defense pairing has been phenomenal against elite competition—although the same can be said for Johnson. A look at the possession numbers, via war-on-ice.com, reveals that both Hedman (55.5) and Johnson (52.3) have been carrying the play for nearly two months.
One of the differences between Johnson and Hedman is Johnson has been carrying the headlines for two months. There's something to be said about the fatigue fans and media feel when the same player is being touted as the best in his field. Montreal's Carey Price cemented himself as the league's MVP in the regular season with about 30 games to play, yet it didn't prevent the writing of thinkpieces on inferior players deserving the Hart Trophy.
Throw in the fact that the national media goes from spread around North America watching eight, then four, then two postseason series before descending on a Final that likely involves a team they haven't seen in two months, and all it takes is a couple of nice passes to be vaulted to the top of the Conn Smythe leaderboard.
Let's not overthink this. If the the Blackhawks win the Cup, it should be Duncan Keith (2 goals, 20 points) in a runaway for the Conn Smythe that eluded him in 2010 and 2013. If the Lightning win the Cup, Johnson should be your no-brainer winner barring six or eight more beautiful passes by Hedman that lead to goals.