The time is neigh.
Monday marks the first possible day that the Tampa Bay Lightning can win the Stanley Cup after taking a 3-0 stranglehold over Montreal. The Canadiens may have other plans, but if they want to lift the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1993, they’ll need to become the first team since 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs to do a reverse sweep in the final.
So while it’s not over at this point, it’s definitely going to be a challenge. But of course, as always, one of the hot topics heading into the game is who’ll win the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the top performer in the playoffs. There’s no clear favorite right now, although early betting lines suggest that Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy could be the No. 1 choice. No matter what, it’ll be a subject of debate, and should include the four players listed below thanks to their incredible runs:
Andrei Vasilevskiy, G (TBL)
When you have a pair of superstar forwards causing the damage they have, you don’t exactly need spectacular goaltending – unless you’re Tampa Bay, where you can always count on Vasilevskiy being one of the highlights of the night. The top statistical goaltender in the playoffs, Vasilevskiy has done an incredible job of shutting down Montreal’s top stars, and performances like his clutch 1-0 shutout over the Islanders in Game 7 are a big reason why the Lightning have another shot at glory. Should he have won the Vezina? There was an incredible case for it, but he’s more focused on the big trophy right now – the one some Stanley guy fancied. Goaltenders don’t win the Conn Smythe often but don’t be surprised if he’s the one holding the trophy when it’s all said and done.
Nikita Kucherov, F (TBL)
Put away the pitchforks, everyone. We know about what the Lightning did. Just remember they played within the rules – don’t hate the player, hate the game, as Adam Proteau wrote last week. But when one of the world’s best players has the year off and returns rested when it matters most, you expect greatness. In 21 games, Kucherov has 32 points – nine clear of Point in second place. To say Kucherov has been incredible is an understatement, especially since there have been just eight times since 2000 where someone had 30 points in the playoffs – and Kucherov did it twice in back-to-back years. The one knock against him is that, compared to Point, he has seven fewer goals, but, come on, Kucherov has been lights out as expected.
Brayden Point, F (TBL)
What else can be said that wasn’t said a year ago? Point is once again putting on a show, recording a playoff-high 14 goals and sitting second in points with 23 in 21 games. Not that Point’s points are a surprise to anyone after recording 33 in 23 games a year ago, proving why Tampa got an absolute steal with him in the third round back in 2014. Against Carolina and New York, Point had a nine-game goal-streak, something that hasn’t been done since Reggie Leach went on a 10-game tear in 1976 with Philadelphia. Surprisingly, Point has cooled off with no goals and just three assists in the first three games (all recorded in Game 1). He might not be the No. 1 choice right now, but you can’t say he wasn’t incredibly important for Tampa’s playoff run.
Carey Price, G (MTL)
The jets definitely cooled on Price’s playoff stock in the Stanley Cup final, with the once inhuman rampage starting finally to play like a mere mortal again. But the Canadiens wouldn’t be where they are now if it wasn’t for the play of Price over the past two months. Heading into the finals, Price’s surface stats – a .934 save percentage and 2.02 goals against average – were tops in the playoffs. His .934 SP and 3.06 GSAA was only beaten by Vasilevskiy among goalies with nine or more starts. Since Game 1 of the final, though, Price has a .835 SP and a 4.39 GAA, with a .643 high-danger save percentage – a big change from Vasilevskiy’s 1.00 HDSV. It’s rare for a goaltender on the losing team to earn the Conn Smythe, but if Montreal pushes back and forces Game 7, the tides could shift in Price’s favor.