While there is still plenty of Stanley Cup Playoff hockey to be played this spring -- as many as 21 games remain -- two rounds of an unforgettable spring are already in the record books.
And, with 69 games in the rear-view mirror, there is a significant sample size available with which to analyze the early contenders for the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the most valuable player in the playoffs. That is exactly what we did, asking some of NHL.com's biggest postseason contributors to pick their MVP at the halfway point of the journey to earn what many believe to be the toughest trophy to win in all of professional sports.
Remember, this is a snapshot of where the Conn Smythe candidates stand today -- on the brink of the conference finals -- and not who these prognosticators believe will actually raise the trophy sometime in June.
EJ Hradek, NHL Live hostMike Smith. The 30-year-old goalie, with limited postseason experience, backstopped a six-game, first-round series victory against the Chicago Blackhawks in which the first five games went to overtime. Smith never wavered, finishing off the Hawks with a brilliant 39-save, series-clinching shutout on the road in Game 6. He followed that up by leading the Coyotes past the Nashville Predators in five games. With a playoff-best two shutouts and a near-perfect .948 save percentage, Smith has been the biggest difference-maker in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Adam Kimelman, NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor
Jonathan Quick, Kings: The Kings' regular-season MVP has been just as valuable in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He's allowed two goals or fewer in seven of nine games, and one goal or fewer in four. He allowed just six goals in four games against the Blues, and he's second among all playoff goalies with a 1.55 goals-against average and .949 save percentage. More than the numbers, though, it's the confidence he's given the rest of the team -- the Kings know it's OK to take a chance, because the best goalie in the playoffs has your back.
Dan Rosen, NHL Senior WriterJonathan Quick and Mike Smith are the main reasons why their teams are in the Western Conference Finals. Martin Brodeur has played like he's 10 years younger to get the Devils into the East final. Braden Holtby was excellent for the Capitals. But Lundqvist is the MVP because of how good he's been with a barely visible margin for error. The Rangers have averaged just 2.07 goals per game this postseason, yet they are going to the Eastern Conference Finals because Lundqvist has been nearly impossible to beat. He has a 1.68 goals-against average and .937 save percentage. He has been at his best the three times the Rangers have faced elimination, posting a 3-0 record along with a 1.33 GAA and .948 save percentage.
Dave Lozo, NHL.com Staff Writer
Mike Smith, Coyotes: Dave Tippett's team has a reputation of being defense-first, but the Coyotes are allowing more shots per game (36.4) than any team in the postseason, and Smith has been dynamite. He's 8-3 with a minuscule 1.77 goals-against average and a superb .948 save percentage while making at least 30 saves in nine of his postseason games. The Coyotes have gone to overtime six times in the playoffs -- and Smith is 4-2 in those games. He has stopped 33 of 35 shots in overtime for a .943 save percentage and outplayed Vezina Trophy finalist Pekka Rinne of the Predators in the second round. Smith is thought of as a system goaltender, but the replacement for Ilya Bryzgalov has taken the Coyotes to the Western Conference Finals for the first time.
Corey Masisak, NHL.com staff writerJonathan Quick), but it is hard to differentiate between any of them because they are all playing well. Brown has been the best skater in the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Mike Morreale, NHL.com staff writer
Mike Smith, Phoenix: He faced a League-high 36.4 shots per game during the opening two rounds, turning aside 379 of 400 shots. He's allowed two or fewer goals, including two shutouts, in eight of his starts to -- accounting, in part, for a dazzling 1.77 goals-against average and .948 save percentage. On top of those gaudy statistics is the fact Smith has dealt with all sorts of pressure, winning four of six postseason games that have gone to overtime. And to think, many wondered if he would be able to get the job done in Phoenix following the departure of Ilya Bryzgalov to the Philadelphia Flyers. Smith has undoubtedly carried the Coyotes on his back in these playoffs.
Shawn Roarke, NHL.com Senior Managing Editor
Dustin Brown, Kings: Forget the numbers -- which include leading his team in points with 11 in nine games -- and just concentrate on what the Kings' captain has done in the postseason's first half. Think about a big play in the Kings' eight wins and there is a good chance Brown has been a part of it. He has two shorthanded goals and used his work ethic to set up another. He has set the tone for his team by sacrificing his body at every turn and has punished opponents with momentum-turning hits. Simply, there is nobody who's been more valuable than Brown so far in the 2011-12 Stanley Cup Playoffs.