We may only be a round-and-a-third through the playoffs, but a number of individual performers have already stepped to the fore, grabbed their team by its collective skate laces and propelled it into the second round.
With those performances in mind, we present the THN.com Top 10 Early Conn Smythe Trophy Favorites.
10. Dustin Byfuglien, Right Wing, Chicago
The converted blueliner has been a physical force, throwing his 250-pound frame around like a bull in a china shop. In Round 1, he got under the skin of Jarome Iginla and the rest of the Flames, becoming such a distraction it became a storyline unto itself. In Round 2 thus far, the 24-year-old has been in Roberto Luongo’s kitchen for three games and generally causing a ruckus wherever he is on the ice.
9. Michael Ryder, Right Wing, Boston
No. 2 on our list of first round vindications last week, Ryder leads Boston in playoff goals and points through six games with five and nine, more than doubling his point-per-game average from the regular season.
8. Cam Ward, Goaltender, Carolina
In Round 1, Ward did what few goalies have done, stare-down and best Martin Brodeur. While the Canes crease guarder wasn’t the only reason Carolina made it past the Devils – Eric Staal and lucky breaks jump to mind – he was the main reason.
7. Nicklas Lidstrom, Defense, Detroit
Trouble looks to be brewing for the heroes of Hockeytown USA, but the defending Norris Trophy-winner is doing all he can to ground the Ducks. The 39-year-old Hall-of-Famer-to-be has four points in three games versus Anaheim and has already played more than 94 minutes in the series. He’s been easily the best Red Wing to date in the playoffs and is showing no signs of slowing down.
6. Alex Ovechkin, Left Wing, Washington
After a slow start to his post-season, Ovechkin picked up his pace in the second half of Round 1 and has been playing like a man possessed in Round 2. He’s notched four goals on 21 shots in two games against Pittsburgh – which includes his first ever playoff hat trick – and is currently third in playoff scoring.
5. Simeon Varlamov, Goaltender, Washington
Washington would not have escaped the first round, let alone be up two-doughnut on Pittsburgh heading into Wednesday night’s game, if it wasn’t for the out-of-nowhere Varlamov. Those who watched the Caps’ farm team in Hershey will tell you they’re not surprised by the play of the 21-year-old, but, c’mon, leading the playoffs in goals-against average and No. 2 in save percentage? Nobody could have predicted that.
4. Sidney Crosby, Center, Pittsburgh
Big things are always expected from The Kid, but leading the league in post-season goals, not so much. Crosby’s stat totals are backwards to what he normally posts. His eight goals are twice the number of assists he’s registered thus far and is more than double his goals-per-game pace from the regular season. He’s also playing nearly 22 minutes per game and winning 59 percent of his faceoffs.
3. Scott Niedermayer, Defense, Anaheim
OK, OK. Now we know people are going to be all a flutter over the next three choices, if not for who they are, then definitely for where they place. But don’t forget, the Ducks are an eight seed that has already knocked off the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Sharks and are a game up on the defending Cup-champion and No. 3-overall Red Wings. Big kudos are definitely due in Anaheim.
Niedermayer has been playing like no other defenseman since Bobby Orr. Coming off a regular season in which he scored 59 points and played almost 27 minutes per game, the 35-year-old Anaheim captain has raised his level of play, controlling the game from his defense position at even strength and dominating the play as a winger with the man advantage. He’s received a lot of recognition for his play on this site, all deserved.
2. Ryan Getzlaf, Center, Anaheim
Getzlaf has come into his own as Anaheim has proven to be the most dangerous No. 8 seed since Edmonton in 2006. Big-G got the last Laf against Joe Thornton and the Sharks in Round 1 and, with six points in three games against Detroit, is proving to be too much for the Red Wings to handle in the second.
1. Jonas Hiller, Goaltender, Anaheim
Simply put, Hiller has been the most outstanding player of these young playoffs. Through nine tough games he’s made more spectacular saves – especially with his glove – than any other playoff netminder. He’s No. 3 in goals-against average at 1.74, No. 1 in save percentage at .955 and tied with the other two goalies on this list for the post-season shutout lead with two. As well, no goalie has played more minutes – all against top-notch competition – or faced more shots along the way.
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The THN.com Top 10 appears Wednesdays only on TheHockeyNews.com.
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