Now that two rounds are complete and we're off and running with the Conference Finals, it seems an opportune time to start mapping out the early favorites for this season's Conn Smythe Trophy winner. This year may be one of the most challenging to predict in the early going. Many of the best individual performers so far have already been eliminated, while many of the top stars on the remaining teams haven't been dominating the scoresheet.
Before we parade out our favorites, let's pay homage to those who did their part in the early rounds, but were forced home prematurely:
• Joel Ward (NAS) -- 7 goals in 12 games for the unheralded Predators forward
• Teemu Selanne (ANA) -- goal a game in the Round 1 loss. Don't blame him.
• Pavel Datsyuk (DET) -- this guy just seems to get better all the time. 15 points in 11 games.
• Claude Giroux (PHI) -- add him to your shortlist for early draft picks next season. 11 assists in 11 games.
• James van Riemsdyk (PHI) -- ready for primetime next season after posting 7 goals and 27 hits for the Flyers
• Carey Price (MON) -- looked every bit as good as Halak from last season. Needed more scoring help to move on.
And now, here the top picks going forward, based on the play through the first two rounds:
1. Dwayne Roloson (G-TB)
I feel like I have to put Roloson first at this point, just to get it off my conscience. I didn't believe he could ever get the Lightning this far, and I still have a hard time believing he can keep this run going. However, the results speak for themselves. Roloson has been the single biggest factor in the first and second round victories for the Lightning, doing his best Halak impersonation over Pittsburgh and Washington. For Tampa to get past Boston, he's going to have to keep it rolling, and if they do advance, it will have to be largely on Roloson's shoulders. Of the team's remaining, Tampa is the only one without a reliable #2 option to turn to if he stumbles. So far, he's earned the role of favorite for the Trophy.
2. Ryan Kesler (VAN)
Heading into the Conference finals, you hardly heard talk of the Sedin twins, largely because Kesler has overshadowed them. The Sharks have to focus all their top talent at containing their "2nd line" center. Kesler leads the NHL in playoff scoring to this point, and his contributions go well beyond those 16 points. He's been money on faceoffs, has racked up 45 hits and 14 blocked shots, and continues to shutdown whatever line he comes up against.
3. Martin St. Louis (TB)
If you put any stock in plus-minus (which I absolutely do not), you might have a problem listing him in the top 3; however, St. Louis has clearly led the charge on offense for the Lightning this post-season. He leads Tampa with 14 points in 12 games, picking up where he left off in the regular season. While young sniper Stamkos continues to be MIA with just 6 points, the veteran hasn't missed a beat and is deserving trophy consideration at this point.
4. Joe Thornton (SJ)
So far so good, as Thornton attempts to shed the monkey from his back. Even if the Sharks fall flat to the Canucks in Round 3, it's hard to imagine the blame falling to the captain this time. He's been a physical force, is shutting down some of the best forwards in the game, and even has been spotted shooting the puck a few times. 2 of his 3 playoff goals are game winners.
5. Tim Thomas (G-BOS)
Boston has gotten this far with an amazing balance of scoring up front, adequate play from their defense, and more than anything, outstanding goaltending from Tim Thomas (putting aside 2 minutes of game 1 on Saturday). His .932 save percentage is second only to Roloson's .941, as is his 2.19 GAA, among the remaining #1 goalies. Without a doubt, if the Bruins are to overcome Tampa's powerplay and advance to the finals, Thomas will have to continue to be their Conn Smythe candidate of choice.
6. Dominic Moore (TB)
As a Penguin fan in round 1, it wasn't Stamkos, St.Louis, or Lecavalier that scared me with the Lightning. It was the vastly underrated Dominic Moore that kept me up at night. While he'll never be at the top of the scoring leaders and he ultimately won't get much serious consideration for this Trophy, nobody does more with the ice time he gets than Moore. Picking up where he left off last spring with Montreal, Moore continues to provide the timeliest of goals and assists to break the backs of his opponents, while playing a key shutdown role on the other end of the rink. His back-to-back behind the goal wizardry passes to Bergenheim in round 1 nicely spotlight what this guy brings to the Bolts. If you're looking for a darkhorse candidate, go with Moore.
And here are a few others who still have time to step it up in Rounds 3 and 4 and enter the conversation:
• Roberto Luongo (G-VAN) -- Despite the earlier controversy over whether he should even be playing in net, Luongo proved his worth against Nashville and is the only goalie with 2 shutouts to this point.
• Vincent Lecavalier (TB) -- He's quietly earning the respect this spring that seemed to wane away in the past 5 years. Point-per-game pace so far.
• Dan Boyle (SJ) -- token defenseman option. Boyle leads at this position with 12 points in 14 games, to go with his 23 blocked shots.
• Antti Niemi (G-SJ) -- Would have to steal a few games against Vancouver to merit consideration, but any goalie who makes the finals has been considered.
• Sean Bergenheim (TB) -- Continues to surprise with big time goals (leads the league to this point), despite limited playing time. Adding a couple assists to those totals might help things here.
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