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Top Conn Smythe Trophy winners debated by NHL.com

Writers weigh in on performances by playoff MVPs on 55th anniversary of award

by NHL.com @NHLdotcom

The Conn Smythe Trophy turns 55 today. First awarded on May 1, 1965, to honor the most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the trophy is named after Conn Smythe, a coach, general manager and owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was first presented to Montreal Canadiens center Jean Beliveau and has been won by 47 different players among the 54 times it has been awarded, most recently by St. Louis Blues center Ryan O'Reilly in 2019. 

To celebrate the anniversary of the award, which was voted on by the NHL governors for the first seven seasons and the Professional Hockey Writers Association since 1971, NHL.com asked 14 writers to pick the best Conn Smythe-winning performance in the history of the award:

 

[RELATED: All Conn Smythe winners | Beliveau put team first after winning initial Conn Smythe]

 

Roger Crozier, Detroit Red Wings, 1966

The goalie was the first of five non-Stanley Cup winning players (four of them goalies) to win the award. Montreal Canadiens captain Jean Beliveau was favored to repeat, having scored 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 10 games, but it was given to Crozier, who went 6-5 in 12 playoff games with a 2.34 goals-against average, .914 save percentage and a shutout. He was injured in a collision with Canadiens forward Bobby Rousseau six minutes into Game 4, forced to leave, but returned for Game 5 on a badly ailing leg; still hobbled, he pushed the hugely favored defending Cup-champion Canadiens to overtime in decisive Game 6.  -- Dave Stubbs, columnist

 

Ken Dryden, Montreal Canadiens, 1971

I'll let Bobby Orr, easily the best defenseman in NHL history (in my humble opinion), make my point for me. "Dryden was better than we ever dreamed," Orr said after the goalie helped the Canadiens upset the Boston Bruins in seven games in the opening round of the 1971 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Bruins weren't the only ones caught off guard by the rags-to-riches story wearing No. 29 for Montreal. The rookie made 648 saves on 709 shots in series wins against the Bruins, Minnesota North Stars and Chicago Blackhawks on the way to the Cup. There have been other Cinderella stories in Conn Smythe history but none in which such an inexperienced player (six regular-season games) soared in such a key role. -- Mike Zeisberger, staff writer

 

Bernie Parent, Philadelphia Flyers, 1974

The goalie had one of the most overlooked Conn Smythe performances. The Flyers swept the Atlanta Flames in the NHL Quarterfinals then defeated the New York Rangers in seven games in the Semifinals. But Parent was at his best during the Final against a Bruins team that had the League's top four regular-season scorers: Phil Esposito (145 points), Orr (122), Ken Hodge (105) and Wayne Cashman (89). The Bruins' 349 goals led the NHL, and they averaged 4.5 goals in their first 10 playoff games. Parent held the Bruins to two goals or fewer four times in six games and closed the series with a 30-save 1-0 win in Game 6. It was the only time in 78 regular-season and 16 playoff games the Bruins were shut out. "Parent, in that particular game, played the best game any player [has] ever played for the franchise," Hall of Famer and Flyers teammate Bobby Clarke said. -- Adam Kimelman, deputy managing editor

Video: Bernie Parent backstopped Flyers to back-to-back Cups

 

Reggie Leach, Philadelphia Flyers, 1976

Leach's 19-goal rampage in the postseason is one of the greatest playoff performances of all time. The right wing is the only non-goalie to be awarded the Conn Smythe while playing for a team that didn't win the Cup. After leading the NHL with 61 goals in the 1975-76, Leach led the playoffs in scoring with 24 points (19 goals, five assists) in 16 games, which included a five-goal game against the Boston Bruins in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals in Philadelphia on May 6. That tied a playoff record set by Maurice Richard in 1944 and equaled by Darryl Sittler of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1976 and Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1989. Leach added four goals in the Final against the Canadiens, but Philadelphia was swept in the best-of-7 series. "It was a great honor to win the Conn Smythe," Leach wrote in his autobiography, "The Riverton Rifle: My Story Straight Shooting on Hockey and on Life." "But I would have gladly exchanged that trophy for the one that was in the Habs' dressing room that night." -- William Douglas, staff writer

 

Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers, 1985

Topping the charts of best Conn Smythe performances is Gretzky in 1985, when the center had an NHL-record 47 points (17 goals, 30 assists) in 18 games and the Oilers went 15-3 to win the Cup for the second time. The Great One scored more than 30 points in a postseason six times, but he was never better than in this 1985 run that netted him his first Conn Smythe. -- Tim Campbell, staff writer

 

Patrick Roy, Montreal Canadiens, 1986

Roy was 20 years old when he helped the Canadiens win the Stanley Cup in 1986 and joined Dryden as Montreal rookie goalies to win the Conn Smythe. The Canadiens were not among the Cup favorites after going 40-33 with seven ties and finishing second in the Adams Division during the regular season, but they and Roy found another level in the postseason. Roy, who ended up winning the Conn Smythe three times, started all 20 games in the playoffs for Montreal, going 15-5 with a 1.93 GAA, .923 save percentage and one shutout. In defeating the New York Rangers in five games in the best-of-7 Wales Conference Final, Roy made 135 saves on 144 shots for a .938 save percentage. He closed out his impressive run in five games against the Calgary Flames in the Final, making 113 saves on 125 shots (.904 save percentage), including a shutout in a 1-0 victory in Game 4. -- Tom Gulitti, staff writer

Video: 1986 Cup Final, Gm5: Rookie Roy caps Cup run with MVP

 

Ron Hextall, Philadelphia Flyers, 1987 

The rookie goalie not only won the award in a losing effort in the Stanley Cup Final but did so against one of the most dominant hockey teams of the 20th century, the 1986-87 Edmonton Oilers, who had six future Hockey Hall of Famers in the lineup in forwards Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson; defenseman Paul Coffey and goalie Grant Fuhr. After the Flyers fell behind 3-1 in the series, Hextall's acrobatic heroics helped Philadelphia rally back, a surprising scenario since the Oilers either swept or lost only one game in 18 of 22 series from 1983-88. Hextall made 40 saves in a 3-1 loss in Game 7, but his performance that series was one for the ages. -- Mike G. Morreale, staff writer

 

Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins, 1992

The center is one of six players to win the Conn Smythe more than once, doing so in 1991 and 1992. He finished with 44 points in 23 games in the 1991 postseason -- the second-most points in a playoff year, but his output in 1992, in far fewer games, is even more impressive. Lemieux had 34 points (16 goals, 18 assists) in 15 games, which led all scorers, even though he missed five games with a broken hand. He had six even-strength goals, eight power-play goals and two shorthanded goals to go along with five game-winners. Lemieux had multiple points in 11 of 15 games and was only held without a point twice. The Penguins went 16-5 that playoff year and won their final 11 games, due in large part to Lemieux and his brilliance. -- David Satriano, staff writer

 

Patrick Roy, Colorado Avalanche, 2001

The 36-year-old goalie's performance was punctuated by how he played in the biggest games during the 2001 run. He made 20 saves in a 2-0 win in Game 2 of the second round against the Los Angeles Kings after losing Game 1, 4-3 in overtime. He made 25 saves in a 5-1 win in Game 7. He delivered in a clinching Game 5 against the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Final, making 28 saves in a 2-1 overtime win. He saved his best for the Stanley Cup Final against the New Jersey Devils, delivering a 24-save shutout in 4-0 win in Game 6 that forced a Game 7. He stopped 25 of 26 shots in Colorado's 3-1 Game 7 win. Roy went 16-7 with a .934 save percentage, 1.70 goals-against average and four shutouts in the playoffs. -- Dan Rosen, senior writer

 

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins, 2009

The center is the only Conn Smythe Trophy winner who has scored more than 30 points since 1996 (Joe Sakic, 34). One year after the Penguins experienced a crushing defeat to the Detroit Red Wings in the 2008 Final, they dusted themselves off and returned the following season against the same opponent. Malkin made history that year, becoming the first Russia-born player to win the Conn Smythe with 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists) in 24 games. It was the most points by any player in the playoffs since Gretzky had 40 for the Los Angeles Kings in 1993. The greater the stakes that postseason, the better Malkin was. He scored eight points (two goals, six assists) in the Stanley Cup Final, which required seven games, and 17 of his postseason points (eight goals, nine assists) were scored during the final 11 games. -- Brian Compton, deputy managing editor

 

Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins, 2011

Nine goalies in Stanley Cup Playoff history have played at least 25 games in a single postseason, and Thomas had by far the best save percentage (.940) of that group (The next best was .928 by Miikka Kiprusoff of the Calgary Flames in 2003-04). Thomas went 16-9 and became the oldest player (37) to win MVP. Thomas had four shutouts, including the first by a road goalie in Game 7 of the Final, punctuating one of the most memorable single seasons by a goalie in history; he also won the Vezina Trophy in 2010-11. Thomas made 37 saves in Game 7 against the Canucks, nothing new for a goalie that had at least that many saves 10 times in the 2011 postseason when Boston won its first title since 1972. -- Pete Jensen, senior fantasy editor

What could be better than a Conn Smythe performance that made a player into a legend? Thomas delivered Boston its first Stanley Cup win in 39 years, posting a 1.98 GAA and .940 save percentage in the 2011 playoffs. He saved 238 of 246 shots in the seven games of the Final for a .968 save percentage. Passed over for much of his career, Thomas proved at age 37 that his "battlefly" style could outduel even Roberto Luongo to help him become the second United States-born player to win it (Brian Leetch, New York Rangers, 1994). -- Amalie Benjamin, staff writer 

 

Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings, 2012

The Kings finished the regular season second-to-last in the NHL in scoring with 188 goals. They were the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Yet they defeated the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Final to complete an epic run, going 16-4 and becoming the first team to knock off the first, second and third seeds in order. They were also the first to take a 3-0 lead in four straight series and the first eighth seed to go all the way. They went 10-1 on the road, tying the 1995 Devils for the best road record in Stanley Cup history. Quick was the key to it all. Runner-up for the 2012 Vezina Trophy to Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers, he went 16-4 with a 1.41 GAA, a .946 save percentage and three shutouts in the playoffs. His GAA and save percentage set NHL records among goalies who played more than 12 postseason games. In short, the Kings were the unlikeliest of champions, thanks largely to a goalie who had the best statistical playoff run ever. -- Nick Cotsonika, columnist  

 

Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks, 2015 

The defenseman scored the game-winning goal against the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of the first round and scored the game-winning goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. Those two moments were part of a tremendous postseason for Keith, who was 32 years old. He had 21 points (three goals, 18 assists) in 23 games and was a workhorse, averaging 31:07 of ice time per game. After defenseman Michal Rozsival broke his ankle in the second round against the Minnesota Wild, the Blackhawks relied on their top four defensemen, especially Keith, through the Western Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks and the Cup Final against the Lightning. Keith was outstanding. -- Tracey Myers, staff writer

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