Well, it is that time of year and this year's 2014 Conn Smythe Trophy Finalists have officially been selected. The trophy is awarded to the most valuable player throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs. The winner will be named when either the New York Rangers or the Los Angeles Kings raise the cup on or before June 18th. This year’s three finalists from the Los Angeles Kings are: Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter. The New York Rangers' nominees are Henrik Lundqvist and Ryan McDonagh.
Drew Doughty was the best player on the ice through the first three rounds – involved in all aspects of the game and playing very consistent throughout each round and arguably against the league’s top teams. He earned power play minutes, penalty kill time, and leads all defenseman with 16 points in LA’s first 21 games these playoffs. He showed he can rebound from a poorly executed play (giving up the puck at the offensive zone blue line to Carl Hagelin for a breakaway goal in period one) to skating circles around the Ranger's defenseman and scoring to tie the game at 2 in game 1. He has showed resiliency and commitment to this team and their cup run through his performance both on and off the ice.
Anze Kopitar was also a huge factor this season for the Kings, especially during this up and down journey through the playoffs. He made plays at key times as well as done many of the little things throughout each game that tend to greatly effect the outcome. He has been strong offensively for his team day in and day out and was their best center, and key face-off man, in each series. Kopitar has shown how good and skilled he is at both ends of the ice and uses his talent and work ethic to create chances each game. He's logged points in all three series this post season and if he can continue to do so against the Rangers, he indeed can and will potentially be a major factor over this final stretch if the King's win it all.
Jeff Carter was an important force in pushing LA to this point. He centered the highly effective line between Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, both rookies. Unless he outshines Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar during this series against New York, it is unlikely he will be the Conn Smythe winner, but he sure has earned his spot as a finalist. He worked hard, created chances and room for his line mates. He is a solid center for his team and showed his ability to make things happen with his hard work and good vision on the ice. Carter has come up big during these playoff's and isn't afraid the attack the net or make a physical play to pump his team up.
Henrik Lundqvist is making his first Stanley Cup appearance in his, otherwise outstanding, career. Known as one of the most competitive athletes both on and off the ice, the Rangers have a good shot to win it all having a world class goaltender behind them. Throughout the playoffs to this point, he has show a new level of competitiveness. He has fought to get the Rangers to this point and does not seem to be slowing down. The King has turned many struggling periods by his team into the "Henrik Lundqvist show" and continuously gives the team in front of him a chance to win every night. If the Ranger's have a chance of winning this final series, it will be in large part to the effort and skill of their goalie.
Lastly, there is Ryan McDonagh. The 24 year old kid from Minnesota, who recently put up Brian Leetch like numbers. McDonagh has been the best and most consistent defenseman for the Rangers during this Stanley Cup run and has added a great deal of offense to his already superb defensive game for this team throughout. He saw a lot of talent in the second round matching up with Crosby and Malkin -- and will be seeing a lot of Gaborik, Kopitar and Brown in this round. If he can continue to shut down these players as well as continue to score during this series, he will make even more of an impact and it will give him a chance to win the trophy.
With all five candidates likely to make a difference in this final series, only one will walk away with the title “Conn Smyth Trophy Winner.” Let’s hope, Ranger fans, Doughty, Kopitar and Carter do not get the opportunity and the competition is solely between Lundqvist and McDonagh!