TAMPA, Fla. — Add another name to the pile.
It was after a 36-save win against the Washington Capitals in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final that Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy joined what is fast becoming a crowded Conn Smythe Trophy ballot.
Don’t worry, it will thin out soon enough.
That’s the thing about the playoff MVP award: you don’t win it in the first, second or even third round. No, you have to wait until the Stanley Cup final. Even then, you usually have to actually win the Cup to win the award.
With that in mind, here are two players from each remaining team that could be crowned MVP.
MARK SCHEIFELE, WINNIPEG
Welcome to the Mark Scheifele show. To say that these playoffs have been a coming out party for the Jets centre would be an understatement. He headed into Game 4 of the conference final with a post-season leading 14 goals in 15 games. He has had five multi-goal games, nine multi-point games, and 15 even-strength points. Oh, and did we mention that he’s already set the record for most road goals (11) in a single post-season as well as most overall goals (14). And he still has potentially another round to play.
STEVEN STAMKOS, TAMPA BAY
If opposing teams were a little more disciplined, you might not have noticed Stamkos in these playoffs. But that certainly hasn’t been the case. Though he has only has four even-strength points in 14 games, he’s been a constant threat on the power play with six goals and six assists. Because of that, Tampa Bay is scoring at a 30.8 success rate with the man advantage. “Things are going well, obviously,” said Stamkos. “We have a lot of confidence. They’re so important at this time of the year. You never know how many opportunities you’re going to get.”
MARC-ANDRE FLEURY, VEGAS
Fleury won back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Penguins in 2016 and 2017, but both times he was sitting on the bench when the final buzzer sounded. That hasn’t been the case this year. The Golden Knights wouldn’t be in the conference final without him. Heck, they wouldn’t even be in the playoffs. Heading into Game 4, he was 10-3 in the post-season, with a 1.70 goals-against average and an unreal .945 save percentage. He also has four shutouts, including two in elimination games.
ALEX OVECHKIN, WASHINGTON
This is the first time that Ovechkin has made it past the second round of the playoffs. And with 10 goals and 20 points, he’s making the most of what might be an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Washington is 9-3 when Ovechkin lands on the scoresheet, something he has done in all but four games so far. As Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said earlier in this series, it’s as if he’s working out years and years of frustration on these playoffs.
CONNOR HELLEBUYCK, WINNIPEG
A Vezina Trophy finalist in the regular season, Hellebuyck had somehow been even better in the playoffs. He had two shutouts in the first round against Minnesota, but it was his work in the second round, where he outplayed Vezina Trophy finalist Pekka Rinne, which put him in the conversation for playoff MVP. Against Nashville’s high-octane offence, Hellebuyck allowed just 2.5 goals per game. Not bad, considering that he won games in which he made 47, 38 and 36 shots.
EVGENY KUZNETSOV, WASHINGTON
Kuznetsov was criticized in previous playoffs for not showing up when his team needed it the most. But that hasn’t been the case this year. The Capitals’ top-line centre leads the team with 10 goals and 21 points. With Nicklas Backstrom injured for Game 6 against the Penguins in the second round, it was Kuznetsov who scored the overtime winner. Since then, he has three goals and seven points in four games against the Lightning.
JONATHAN MARCHESSAULT, VEGAS
Undrafted and at times unwanted, Marchessault has become the poster boy for a team of players that were given up on by their previous teams. No question, Florida wishes it could have a do-over after he scored 28 goals and 75 points this season. But it’s in the playoffs where Marchessault has done his most damage. Though he went without a goal in a four-game sweep of the Kings in the first round, the Golden Knights winger had four goals and nine points against the Sharks in the second round and headed into Game 4 with four goals in six games against the Jets.
BRAYDEN POINT, TAMPA BAY
Point has the same number of goals (seven) and assists (nine) as Stamkos, with one big difference: ten of his 16 points have come at even-strength. That’s no small feat when you consider that the second-year centre has been getting the toughest assignments of the playoffs. In the first round, he matched up against New Jersey’s Taylor Hall and then lined up against Boston’s Patrice Bergeron in the second round. “He’s an outstanding player,” said Stamkos. “In our room he’s been arguably one of our best players all season long and then through the playoffs.”
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