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THN.com Playoff Blog: Handing out hardware for Round 1

Despite losing in seven games, the Rangers hung around against the Capitals because of the play of Henrik Lundqvist. (Getty Images)

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Despite losing in seven games, the Rangers hung around against the Capitals because of the play of Henrik Lundqvist. (Getty Images)

In the latest edition of The Hockey News magazine, we hand out our annual regular season hardware after soliciting the opinion of 50 hockey experts.

In the latest edition of the Edward Fraser Blog, I hand out my annual first round awards after soliciting the opinion of absolutely no one but myself.

Most Valuable Player – Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers
It may seem more than a touch strange to acknowledge a player not advancing to Round 2, but no player meant more to his team in the first round than King Henrik did to the Rangers. If it wasn’t for his heroics – the best of which was his out-of-this-world toe save in Game 7 to keep the game at one apiece – the Blueshirts would have been white washed by the Red Rockers. Honorable mentions: Jonas Hiller, ANA; Eric Staal, CAR

Best Player – Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh
It’s tempting to slap this one on Lundqvist, too, but, lest we forget, he was yanked in Games 5 and 6. Geno, on the other hand, was an absolute force against the Flyers, continuing his season-long production by leading the first round in points with nine. The true test now for the ultra-talented Russian is not folding-up shop like last season when someone on the Caps lays him out. Honorable mentions: Ryan Getzlaf, ANA; Henrik Lundqvist, NYR

Top Goalie – Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers
While Vancouver stopper Roberto Luongo’s numbers were otherworldly with a 1.16 goals-against average, .962 save percentage and a shutout, the Blues aren’t the Capitals, so the nod goes to Lundqvist. Honorable mentions: Cam Ward, CAR; Jonas Hiller, ANA

Top Defenseman – Scott Niedermayer, Anaheim
In what’s become a young man’s game, the 35-year-old Niedermayer continues to astound with his two-way play. I suppose you could argue he doesn’t deserve the award as he plays forward – or rover – on the power play, where he collected his lone goal and two of his five first round points. But at even strength there isn’t a defenseman who can control a game the way Niedermayer does. If he decides not to hang ‘em up next season, Niedermayer will be a big part of the discussion for Canada’s Olympic team. Honorable mentions: Sergei Gonchar, PIT; Paul Martin, NJ

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Top Rookie – Simeon Varlamov, Washington
A couple of his outside-of-the-crease competitors put up noteworthy numbers, but it’s impossible to overlook this steely 21-year-old who came in to save the Caps’ bacon after they were cooked in Game 1. If Varlamov can put up numbers anywhere near his first round line (1.17 GAA; .952 SP), Washington’s second round matchup against the Penguins won’t be nearly as close as most predict. Honorable mentions: Kris Versteeg, CHI; Bobby Ryan, ANA

Top Coach – Randy Carlyle, Anaheim
Yes, Ryan Getzlaf was far better than Joe Thornton. Yes, Jonas Hiller was unrelenting between the pipes. And, yes, the Sharks once again failed to show the bite necessary to be successful in the post-season. But an overlooked aspect of the Ducks’ upset was the crafty Carlyle out-coaching his rookie San Jose counterpart in several areas. Honorable mentions: Bruce Boudreau, WSH; Joel Quenneville, CHI

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
To clean up a little forgotten regular season business: Back in an early January blog, I had Ryan Kennedy draw up some over/under lines on a few prop bets in order to spice up the second half of the regular season.

It causes me little discontent to report I went a meager two for five, as all it does is affirm I’m no better at picking the winners when there’s nothing on the line as when there is.

Whether it’s for play or I actually do lay down a few bills, my choices fold like a discarded Don Cherry suit.

Thanks again, San Jose!

Show off your hockey knowledge by entering The Hockey News’ free Playoff Challenge!

THN.com's Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.

Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog normally appears Thursdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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