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Recalling five most recent Conn Smythe winners

by Emily Kaplan /
Within the next two weeks, the Vancouver Canucks or the Boston Bruins will stand at center ice and wait for Commissioner Gary Bettman to present them with the most coveted award in all of hockey: the Stanley Cup.

Yet right before the Cup is given to one of those respective teams, another trophy will be presented.

That trophy, of course, is the Conn Smythe -- awarded annually to the player deemed most valuable to his team throughout all four rounds of the playoffs.

As teams have been eliminated in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the list of Conn Smythe Trophy candidates has narrowed.

Now just a handful of players -- Boston's Tim Thomas and David Krejci as well as Vancouver's Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa and Henrik Sedin to name a few -- remain in the running to take home the hardware.

Before this year's winner is named, let's take a look back at the last five Conn Smythe Trophy winners, and some of the remarkable things they achieved in the postseason:

2010 -- Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks

Toews didn't exactly have the most outstanding Stanley Cup Final -- he didn't record a goal and only tallied three assists in the Blackhawks' six-game series win against the Flyers. However, the Conn Smythe is awarded to the player who was most valuable to his team throughout the entire course of the playoffs. And Toews was simply outstanding for Chicago through the postseason. The captain finished the 2010 playoffs with 29 points, only one point behind Philadelphia's Danny Briere for most in the postseason. Toews, 22 years and 41 days old at the time, became the second youngest winner of the Conn Smythe trophy of all time. Only Patrick Roy was younger.

2009 -- Evgeni Malkin, Penguins

Malkin didn't score a goal in the last three games of the Stanley Cup Final. However, he still led all playoff scorers with 36 points -- which was the most for any player in the playoffs since the Kings' Wayne Gretzky tallied 40 points in 1993. Malkin combined for 4 goals and 14 assists in Pittsburgh's first two rounds, against the Flyers and Capitals, then shined in the Eastern Conference Finals with 6 goals and 3 assists in four games against the Hurricanes. The 6-foot-3 center became just the fifth player to lead the regular season and playoffs in scoring, joining Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Guy Lafleur and Phil Esposito as the only players to accomplish the feat.

2008 -- Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings

Zetterberg will be known for scoring the game-winning goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final to clinch a series win for the Red Wings. But what the 5-foot-11 Swedish forward will also be remembered for in the 2008 Final was a memorable shift in Game 4. With Detroit clinging to a 2-1 lead, the Penguins were given a lengthy 5-on-3 power play. Zetterberg shined defensively in that shift, most notably tying up Sidney Crosby to the left of the net, preventing Pittsburgh's sharp-shooter from scoring the tying goal.  Zetterberg finished the postseason by setting a new Red Wings' playoff-scoring record with 27 points. Zetterberg also led all players in the 2008 playoffs with a plus-17 rating.

2007 -- Scott Niedermayer, Ducks

When Niedermayer helped lead the Ducks to the 2007 Stanley Cup, it was the fourth Stanley Cup the 6-foot-1 defenseman had won in his career. But this one, he said, was the most special. Not only did Niedermayer win the Conn Smythe Trophy for the first time in his career, but he was able to share the experience of winning a championship with his brother, Rob, who was also on Anaheim's roster in 2006-07. Niedermayer, the Ducks' captain, was stellar throughout the playoffs. He led all players in the postseason with 626:41 of playing time, and was fifth with 39 blocked shots. 

2006 -- Cam Ward, Hurricanes

Ward finished the 2006 playoffs with a 2.14 goals-against average, including shutouts against the Devils in the opening game of the second round, and the Oilers in Game 2 of the Final. But what's the most remarkable part about Ward leading Carolina to its first-ever Stanley Cup? He began the postseason a backup rookie goaltender. Martin Gerber entered the playoffs with the franchise record of 38 regular-season wins while Ward was inconsistent all season, allowing an average of 3.68 goals in 28 games. But when Gerber struggled in the postseason, with a pair of home losses to Montreal, Ward came on in relief -- and never gave up the crease. He became the third rookie goalie in the last 35 years to lead his team to the NHL title, joining Ken Dryden in 1971 and Patrick Roy in 1986, while he is the fourth rookie to capture the Conn Smythe, joining Dryden, Roy and Philadelphia goalie Ron Hextall in 1987.
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