The big debate since the Pittsburgh Penguins took a 3-1 lead in the Stanley Cup Final against the San Jose Sharks has been who should win the Conn Smythe Trophy. It sure won’t be Evgeni Malkin since he’s really been struggling this postseason. The Trophy goes to the most valuable player of the playoffs.
If the Penguins can close out the Sharks on Thursday night then one of the Pittsburgh players will be taking the Trophy home, and here are my top three candidates to take the Trophy.
The top candidate by many is none other than the captain of the Penguins, Sidney Crosby. In 22 games played this postseason, he has six goals, 11 assists and 17 points with three game-winning goals, which all came in the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The three game-winning goals in the Eastern Conference Final came after he was held to zero goals and two assists in six games against the Washington Capitals. He hasn’t been putting up the points, but he’s been playing solid hockey and doing the little things to help his team win. Crosby has been playing solid two-way hockey and finding ways to help his team win games or bounce back from loses.
Crosby has been one of the Penguins best at winning faceoffs this postseason. The center has won 269 faceoffs and lost 248 for a 52.0% faceoff win percentage. His faceoff winning percentage might not seem to be an important stat, but faceoff wins amount to possession for the Penguins, which ultimately means less time defending. Crosby scored his first playoff overtime game-winning goal in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final, and assisted on Connor Sheary’s game-winning overtime goal in Game 2 in the Stanley Cup Final.
Phil Kessel has been playing the best hockey of his career. In 22 postseason games, he has 10 goals, 11 assists and 21 points. He has only been kept off the score sheet in seven of the 22 postseason games. The winger hasn’t gone more than two games with no points and that has only happened once during these playoffs. Kessel has been held pointless three times on the road and four times at home. At times, he has been going up against the opposition’s top line during the playoffs.
Kessel doesn’t have any game-winning goals this postseason, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t come up clutch in big moments. He tied Game 3 against the New York Rangers at 2-2, and the Penguins went on to win the game. He assisted on the overtime game-winning goal in Game 6 against the Capitals, which was also the series clinching game for the Penguins. Kessel has also gotten his team on the board first a few times this postseason. The winger has five multipoint games this postseason and two of them came in series clinching games.
Matt Murray has been solid in the net for the Penguins this postseason. In 19 games, he is 14-5 with a 2.09 goals against average, and a .925 save percentage. He is only 22-years-old and is 5-0 after losses in these playoffs. He is one win away from tying the record of 15 wins in a postseason by a rookie goalie. The team in front of him has done a good job of limiting the number of shots that he’s seen, but Murray has stayed sharp and made saves, when needed.
The goalie is a big reason why the Penguins are one win away from winning the Stanley Cup. Murray has played with the poise and control of a veteran and nothing has seemed to rattle him. He has made the routine saves, and the highlight reel saves to keep games close or preserve the lead. Murray has seemed calm, cool and collected throughout these playoffs for the Penguins.
My pick to win the Conn Smythe Trophy would be Kessel since he has only been held off the score sheet in seven games and is just averaging under a point per game.