Alex Ovechkin shakes hands with the man most responsible for sending him and the rest of the Capitals home. Jaroslav Halak finished the series with a .939 SP. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The most exciting first round of recent memory has wrapped up. But before we turn our full focus to the round of eight, let’s look back at the top performers from the conference quarterfinals using seven of the 10 categories we rely on for our annual THN Awards (which, coincidentally, is the cover story in our most recent issue).
WAYNE GRETZKY AWARD – Most Valuable Player
Jaroslav Halak, Montreal
If you watched the series, you know why he gets the honor. If you didn't, simply know that no individual had as much bearing on his team advancing to the second round as the 24-year-old Slovak. Halak held the league's most potent offense to five goals in the Canadiens' four wins and time and time again came up huge when tested, which was often: the Caps fired 218 shots (an average of 43.6) in his five full games.
MARIO LEMIEUX AWARD – Best Player
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh
The Kid was a full-on wrecking ball in the first round, playing a glacier-sized role in five of the six games against the Senators, while collecting a playoff-leading 14 points; three more than the closest competitor. He's also first among all centers in ice time, averaging 23:20 per game. Hard to believe he's only 22 and already looking for his second Cup.
BOBBY ORR AWARD – Best Defenseman
Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit
This one was a real toss-up between Lidstrom, Dan Boyle and Chris Pronger, but the nod goes to the sweet Swede because of the level of competition Phoenix provided. Lidstrom was tied for first in goals (three) and second in points (six) from the blueline and still controls a game like no other. Hard to believe he's 40 and looking for his fifth Cup.
PATRICK ROY AWARD – Best Goalie
Craig Anderson, Colorado
Halak is well-deserving of this honor, too, but lets share the wealth, even though it's somewhat strange to recognize a tender who'll be hitting the golf course instead of the second round. Anderson was remarkable for the Avalanche, stretching a series to six games that could have easily been a sweep for the Sharks otherwise. Colorado was outshot 245-149, yet was only outscored by eight goals. The 28-year-old's 2.62 GAA isn't overly impressive, but his .933 SP is.
TEEMU SELANNE AWARD – Best First-Year Player
Johnny Boychuk, Boston
While his goal and three points is nothing to sneeze at, it’s his time-on-ice and defensive play for an injury-depleted Bruins blueline that gives him the nod over other deserving freshmen like Tuukka Rask, Jimmy Howard and Erik Karlsson. The late-blooming rookie (he’s 26) is second on the team in TOI – behind Zdeno Chara – and was only a minus-1 with two PIMs.
JOHN FERGUSON AWARD – Toughest Player
Ian Laperriere, Philadelphia
Not to give away too much, but my First Round Award goes to the recipient of THN's Regular Season Award. For the second time this year, the tough-as-nails 36-year-old blocked a shot with his face, only to return later in the same game. The fact he’s done for the playoffs as a result of said face-shot-block will hurt Philly’s chances against Boston. Plus, take a look at his nose on his player bio pic. Now that’s a hockey player.
CAM NEELY AWARD – Breakout Player
Mikael Samuelsson, Vancouver
Sometimes the numbers don't lie; just look at the 33-year-old's year-by-year playoff PPG average: 0.17; 0.61; 0.59; 0.43; 1.83 (!). With a league-leading seven goals in the first round, Samuelsson is making a statement to the Team Sweden brass (who left him off the &$%@ing Olympic team) and the hockey world that he has arrived as a top-flight player.
THN.com's Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.
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Edward Fraser is the managing editor of The Hockey News. His blog appears weekly.
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