Resiliency and emotion have carried the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers into the Stanley Cup Final. But neither would be getting prepared to play Game 1 on Wednesday at Staples Center (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS) without some phenomenal individual performances.
The Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, won't be officially handed out until a champion is crowned either on or before June 18. Here are the top five candidates after three rounds:
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles
Doughty was the best player on the ice in the Western Conference Final because he was involved in every facet of every game and making a difference at every turn.
He pinched and produced offense. Doughty finished the series with seven points on three goals, four assists. He had 19 shots on goal against the Chicago Blackhawks, including nine in Game 5.
Doughty averaged 28:42 of ice time in the conference final, including 3:30 on the power play and 2:35 on the penalty kill. He played 39:04 in Game 5 and 29:27 in Game 7, which was in fact his worst game of the series.
Doughty leads all defensemen with 16 points in 21 games. He's averaging 27:50 of ice time per game. He's a plus-5 with 51 shots on goal.
Henrik Lundqvist, New York
Lundqvist usually is the Rangers' best player, so it's no surprise he has been through three rounds in the playoffs too. He is the biggest reason why they are playing in the Stanley Cup Final.
He has won seven of his past nine starts, allowing only eight goals in the seven wins.
He had an off-night in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Montreal Canadiens, but responded in Game 6 with an 18-save shutout, including a circus-like blocker save on Thomas Vanek when the game was still scoreless in the second period.
Lundqvist is 6-2 with a .936 save percentage in games played after a Rangers' loss this postseason.
Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles
If Doughty is the Kings' MVP on defense (and maybe overall), Kopitar is their MVP through three rounds up front.
Kopitar leads the NHL with 19 assists and 24 points in 21 games. He has five points on two goals and three assists in three Game 7s. He also has 11 points on five goals and six assists in seven potential elimination games.
When the Kings were down 3-0 against the San Jose Sharks, it was Kopitar who lifted them up. L.A. rallied to win four straight behind Kopitar's four goals and three assists.
When the Kings were down 3-2 in the second round series against the Anaheim Ducks, it was again Kopitar who stepped up. He had a goal and two assists in Games 6 and 7.
Kopitar added five assists in the Western Conference Final. He won 16 of his 28 faceoffs (57 percent) in Game 7 and assisted on Marian Gaborik's game-tying goal in the third period.
Ryan McDonagh, New York
Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round without McDonagh breaking out of his slump.
He had a forgettable first 11 games in the playoffs as he overcame a shoulder injury sustained late in the regular season, but McDonagh started to turn it on in Game 5 against Pittsburgh and has 12 points in his past nine games.
Not coincidentally, the Rangers are 7-2 in those games after going 5-6 in their first 11 games of the playoffs.
McDonagh finished the Eastern Conference Final with two goals and eight assists, including the secondary assist on Dominic Moore's series-clinching goal in New York's 1-0 win in Game 6. McDonagh pinched down below the goal line to make the play.
He is the first defenseman in Rangers' history to have eight assists in one series, and only the second in team history to have at least 10 points in a series. Brian Leetch had 11 in the 1994 Stanley Cup Final.
Jeff Carter, Los Angeles
Carter is second in points (22) and goals (nine) in the playoffs. He is tied for the most power-play goals (four) with Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban.
He lit it up against the Blackhawks in the conference final with 11 points on five goals and six assists despite not scoring and being a minus-3 in Game 6. Carter had a hat trick and an assist in L.A.'s 6-2 win in Game 2. He came back with a three-point effort in Game 3, a 4-3 Kings win.
Carter had 27 shots on goal and averaged 18:20 of ice time against the Blackhawks.
He has been held off the score sheet only six times in 21 games in the postseason, and has found a home playing center on a line with rookies Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, who have combined for 25 points.