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Sharks' Pavelski Leads Conn Smythe Race

by Staff Writer / San Jose Sharks

The 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs are down to two teams with the San Jose Sharks facing the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final. Game 1 is at Consol Energy Center on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

Before the Final begins, six NHL.com writers give their picks for the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the Most Valuable Player of the playoffs.

There are already strong contenders in Joe Pavelski of the Sharks and Phil Kessel of the Penguins. Much will ride on what takes place in Final, but here's how the NHL.com staffers handicap the Conn Smythe Trophy race after three rounds:

Nick Cotsonika, NHL.com Columnist

1. Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks

2. Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks

3. Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins

Pavelski ranks first in goals with 13 and second in points with 22, and he has been the leader of the Sharks, setting the tone, coming through in big moments. Burns has been a catalyst from the back end, ranking third in scoring among all skaters with 20 points (6 goals, 14 assists) and first among defensemen by six points. Murray has gone 11-4 with a .924 save percentage. When Penguins coach Mike Sullivan started Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Fleury allowed four goals on 25 shots in a 4-3 overtime loss. Sullivan went back to Murray for Games 6 and 7, and Murray made 44 of 47 saves in back-to-back wins.

Tom Gulitti, NHL.com Staff Writer

1. Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks

2. Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins

3. Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks

No one scored more goals than Pavelski's 13 through the first three rounds of the playoffs. He leads the League with four game-winning goals to help the Sharks reach the Final for the first time in their history. One of the reasons the Penguins have gotten this far is their scoring depth, but Kessel's consistency in leading them with 18 playoff points (nine goals, nine assists) has stood out. He had six points (three goals, three assists) in five games in the first round against the New York Rangers, six points (two goals, four assists) in six games in the second round against the Washington Capitals, and six points (four goals, two assists) in seven games in the conference final. Logan Couture already owns the Sharks record for most points in a playoff year and leads the League with 24 (eight goals, 16 assists).

Amalie Benjamin, NHL.com Staff Writer

1. Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks

2. Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins

3. Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks

Pavelski just cannot be stopped right now. He has been the best player on a very good Sharks team that shows no signs of caving in, unlike in previous seasons. His team and his line have been simply dominant. Thornton is almost as worthy of the award as Pavelski, with three goals and 15 assists heading into the Final. He looked like he was not going to let the Sharks lose in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final against the St. Louis Blues, and that might just continue. Kessel, meanwhile, has nine goals and nine assists and has been the force Pittsburgh has needed to get here, with his production and his line's production a big reason why the Penguins are still playing.

Shawn Roarke, NHL.com Director of Editorial

1. Joe Pavelski, San Jose

2. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, San Jose

3. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh

Pavelski carried the Sharks through the conference final. The Sharks scored 21 goals in six games against the Blues and Pavelski figured in nine of them. He scored four times, including the winner in a pivotal Game 5 and the game-opening goal in Game 6. He scored the game-winning goal in Game 7 of the second round against the Nashville Predators, which started his current seven-game point streak. Pavelski is the scoring source for the Sharks, and Vlasic has stopped opponents from scoring. Vlasic is a plus-13 in 18 games. More impressively, he has been paired against three of the League's top scorers in the first three rounds and has shut each player down; Tyler Toffoli of the Los Angeles Kings, Filip Forsberg of the Predators and Vladimir Tarasenko of the Blues combined for 108 goals in the regular season, but combined for three goals in the playoffs. Letang is playing 28:49 per game for a defense that lost Trevor Daley to injury in the third round and features two regulars under the age of 25 and with less than 100 games of NHL experience. He has 10 points and a plus-5 rating in 16 playoff games.

Dan Rosen, NHL.com Senior Writer

1. Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins

2. Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks

3. Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks

Kessel has ignited the Penguins offense when they have needed it this postseason. He scored four goals on 30 shots in the conference final and had the first two goals and an assist on the overtime winner in Pittsburgh's second-round series-clinching 4-3 win against the Capitals. He has been electrifying on the right side of the most dominant line in the Eastern Conference along with center Nick Bonino and left wing Carl Hagelin. Kessel has 18 points on nine goals and nine assists. His line, the "HBK line," has 45 points. Pavelski has certainly done his part to ignite the Sharks offense with a League-high 13 goals, including four game-winning goals. His 22 points are second behind Couture, who has a League-high 16 assists. Pavelski and Couture have helped the Sharks average a League-high 3.50 goals per game in the playoffs.

Brian Compton, NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

1. Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks

2. Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins

3. Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks

Pavelski leads the NHL with 13 goals in the playoffs and has been as clutch as they come, with four of his goals being game-winners. Kessel is showing he can perform on the biggest stage and leads the Penguins with 18 points entering the Final. Couture leads the League with 16 assists and 24 points and has proven he's much more than a mere sidekick to Thornton.

NHL.com @NHL

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