PHILADELPHIA -- Let's get right down to brass tacks. Who wins the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2010?
Based on the Final series between the Philadelphia Flyers and Chicago Blackhawks it has become a somewhat surprisingly tough choice.
As often happens in a playoff series, the top scorers have been somewhat negated by the checking presence of the opposition. In 2010, though, secondary scoring has taken hold, producing a two-fold effect, namely a surprising list of candidates and not as much consideration for the goalies, who have been on the receiving end of a high-scoring series.
Keeping that in mind, here are three candidates from each team who could walk off with the Conn Smythe -- one of the coolest trophies around, by the way -- and also a look at whether Michael Leighton or Antti Niemi could be contenders.
Chicago Blackhawks candidates
Jonathan Toews -- "Captain Serious" has struggled to score in the Final, just 2 assists in five games, but overall, his offensive numbers are excellent with 7 goals and 21 assists in 21 games.
Even without offense, Toews is an exceptionally valuable member of the Hawks based on his very mature leadership qualities at age 22 and his uncanny ability in the faceoff circle, where he has won 60 percent of his draws.
"We still have to check the birth certificate and make sure he's only 21 or 22, whatever he is," Patrick Sharp said of Toews. "From Day 1 he entered the League he hasn't changed, on or off the ice. Maybe he's lightened up a little bit now. (He) takes things seriously. He prepares to play just as hard as anybody else. He cares about the game and winning."
Duncan Keith -- A Norris Trophy finalist as the NHL's top defenseman, Keith has been a standout for the Blackhawks in the Final, leading the team in scoring with 1 goal and 5 assists. For the entire playoffs, Keith has 2 goals and 14 assists in 21 games and is a plus-3 while averaging 28 minutes per game.
"He's a great guy, and obviously one of those guys that brings so much to our team on and off the ice," Toews said of Keith. "He focuses all his energy on the right things and he's an old-school guy. He loves the game. You know, plays it smart and simple and hard. He's never been flashy. He's never had the big name, but now I think people are finally realizing what this guy can actually do."
Patrick Sharp -- A former Flyer who blossomed in Chicago, Sharp is a well-rounded all-around player who has shone in the Final with 3 goals and 2 assists in five games. For the entire postseason, Sharp has 10 goals and 11 assists in 21 games and is plus-7.
"He was really an offensive player when he was in Philadelphia," teammate John Madden said of Sharp. "And I just remember him always on the go and always trying to score goals. Now that I see him in the role that he's in now, he's a great two-way player.
"He's still offensive, he's great like that," Madden said. "But he's a great leader. He's grown up a lot in terms of how he approaches the games. I can tell that you already by being around him. It's fun to play with him. He's done a lot of good things for our hockey club this year. Like I said before, he's a great player."
Philadelphia Flyers candidates
Danny Briere -- The bloom appeared to be off Briere, as injures and slumps had many thinking he would not live up to the big contract he signed as a free agent a couple years back. But Briere has become a force at the best time. He leads the Flyers in scoring with 2 goals and 7 assists in five games and is a plus-3. For the entire playoffs, Briere has 11 goals and 16 assists in 22 games and is a plus-7.
"When I had the chance to come back in the middle, that was increased responsibilities and a chance to step up and help the team with Jeff's injury," Briere said of stepping in for Jeff Carter.
"It's just a playoff run, but at the same time, this is one of the best times of my life," Briere said. "I'm trying to enjoy it as much as possible … try not to think about the contract issue or anything like that. I'm just going out there and having fun and playing right now."
Ville Leino -- Without question the unlikeliest of playoff heroes this spring. Leino spent a good portion of the season watching from the sidelines as a healthy scratch in both Detroit and then Philadelphia. But once injuries threatened to decimate the Philadelphia lineup, Leino stepped in and stepped up.
In the Final, Leino has 3 goals and 4 assists and is plus-4. For the playoffs, Leino has 7 goals and 12 assists and is a plus-8 in 18 games.
"Ville was scratched at the beginning of the playoffs, but he's been doing it for the past three rounds," Briere said of Leino. "I saw a lot of skills when he came in, when he was traded here. You could tell that he was good with the puck. He had really good hands, good vision. But some guys figure, they figure it out. Other guys don't, so you never know.
"But right now he's in the zone," Briere said. "Everything he touches seems to be working for him. Just like that bounce on his goal last night. But you have to work to create those bounces for yourself as well. I really believe that."
Chris Pronger -- Love him or hate him, Pronger has been at the epicenter of every game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He has 3 assists in the Final, but that is immaterial when it comes to discussing Pronger, who takes on all comers and plays against the opposition's best players. He is averaging 29 minutes per game and his shut-down defense forced the Blackhawks to break up their top line in Game 5, producing results Pronger and the Flyers didn't care for. But never the less, Pronger has driven some Hawks to distraction and he is a beacon to his teammates about what is required to win the Cup.
For the playoffs, Pronger has 4 goals and 13 assists in 22 games and is a plus-4.
"I think there's a side that you see that you're talking about," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said of Pronger joking and sparring with reporters. "There's also a side of professionalism that you get to see as a coach that you probably don't get to see unless you coach him and work with him. The fact that he's always on time at the rink, he shows up, he does the right things, he says the right things. He practices as hard as he plays. He's a professional. He really is."