In terms of excitement and surprise, Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs did not disappoint. It also presented us with a mixed bag of candidates for this year's Conn Smythe Trophy. Most of the early favorites have been eliminated, paving the road for some unlikely heroes as we look ahead to Round 3.
1. Jaroslav Halak
If Halak can keep this level of play up through another two rounds, we can end the discussion here. He has put in a performance for the ages in toppling two of the most feared offensive forces in the world. He enters round 3 with a .933 save percentage. With every game that goes by, he makes Carey Price look more and more like trade bait this summer.
2. Michael Cammalleri
Despite Halak's brilliance, he hasn't done it alone. Cammalleri managed to outshine the likes of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Semin in round 1, then do the same to Crosby and Malkin in round 2. He should have the offensive stage all to himself in Round 3 to build on his league leading 12 goals. He needs just 7 more to tie the all time goal scoring record in the playoffs. The way he's rolling now, he may get there this round.
3. Jonathan Toews
Toews has been everything for the Blackhawks this postseason. From killing penalties to winning faceoffs, he has been a dominant force. A glimpse at the scoring leaders shows his name on top, with 20 points in 12 games. The Chicago captain has definitely turned his game up a notch in the playoffs so far.
4. Joe Pavelski
The one thing holding Pavelski back so far is the lack of games to pad his stats. He has a whopping 9 goals in 11 games, but has played 3 fewer contests than Cammalleri. That shouldn't be a factor in round 3, as he should expect this series to go the limit against the Hawks. He'll be facing a tough challenge, going up against the Chicago defense, but he's exceeded expectations in every game so far.
5. Mike Richards
Richards has taken control of the Flyers destiny, leading them back from a 3-0 deficit to potentially make history in Round 2. He leads the Flyers with 16 points in 11 games. Should they pull off the comeback, Richards will gain his spot among the legends.
6. Antti Niemi
If the Blackhawks make it past the high-scoring Sharks, you will most likely see his name climb up the list of candidates pretty quickly. He's been solid in his rookie playoff run so far, posting a 2.57 GAA and .909 save percentage to complement his 2 shutouts.
7. Evgeni Nabokov
Yes, he's turned in a couple of stinkers, but on the whole, Nabokov has given San Jose the goaltending they've needed to get through two tough rounds. His 2.43 GAA is among the league leaders, and nearly matches Halak in that category.
8. Chris Pronger
You can't discount the role that Pronger has played in leading this Flyer team to one of the most memorable comebacks of all time. In addition to playing to hard-hitting shutdown role against the opponents' top lines, he has managed to put up 4 goals and 11 points in 11 games so far. Tonight's outcome may depend on Pronger's peformance.
9. Joe Thornton
He's one step closer to get those dang monkeys off his back. For the Sharks to advance to the finals, they'll need Thornton to control the game and put up some numbers. If he does so, expect him to be near the top of this list after round 3.
10. Brian Gionta
If Cammalleri ever starts to slow down, it's no mystery who Montreal will turn to in order to carry the load offensively. He potted 6 goals against the Penguins and has 12 points in 14 games.
Note the obvious omission of any Bruins on this list: Should Boston pull out game 7, you can slide Tuukka Rask onto the radar. Other than Rask, it's been a pretty well-balanced effort by Boston, with no single skater standing out above the rest.
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