The Stanley Cup Playoffs are coming to an end, with just two teams now remaining. The Vegas Golden Knights and Florida Panthers will face off in the Stanley Cup Final, with both teams looking for their first title. Aside from the Stanley Cup itself, the biggest question left is who will win the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Named after the former Toronto Maple Leafs owner, the Conn Smythe Trophy goes to the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Unlike other awards such as the NBA's Finals MVP, this award takes the entire playoffs into account, not just the final round. The trophy usually goes to a player on the winning team, but this isn't always the case.
Of course, neither team would be here without some monster performances. As such, there are several good candidates for the award this year, but we've narrowed it down to three.
With that said, here are the three Conn Smythe Trophy favorites heading into the Stanley Cup Final.
3. Jack Eichel, Vegas Golden Knights
Eichel's performance in these playoffs goes to show much a good playoff run can change. Before, Eichel hadn't made the playoffs in his first seven NHL seasons, and many claimed he couldn't win. The constant comparisons to Connor McDavid, his fellow 2015 top draft pick, didn't help either. Now though, the star center has quieted his doubters with this run.
In 17 playoff games, Eichel has six goals and a team-high 18 points. That's a great start, but Eichel is also proving himself as a strong two-way forward.
He's been a monster on the forecheck and has been the one carrying the puck most often for the Golden Knights. It's no coincidence that his line mates, Jonathan Marchessault and Ivan Barbashev, are right behind him in terms of points.
Eichel has gone through a lot in his career, such as his controversial exit from the Buffalo Sabres and neck surgery after arriving in Vegas. In these playoffs though, he is showing the talent that made him a No. 2 overall pick all those years ago.
2. Matthew Tkachuk, Florida Panthers
Florida made a huge gamble in the offseason by bringing in Tkachuk. The Panthers gave up their top point-scorer last season in Jonathan Huberdeau, a top-four defenseman in Mackenzie Weegar, a decent prospect in Cole Schwindt and a first-round pick to pry Tkachuk away from the Calgary Flames. So far though, that risk has been well worth it and then some.
Tkachuk dominated in the regular season with 40 goals and 108 points, but he has been otherworldly in the playoffs. He leads the Panthers with nine goals and 21 points, and he has shown up when it matters most. Whether it's his three-overtime winner or his series-clinching goal in the dying seconds of Game 4 in the Eastern Conference Final, Tkachuk has been the definition of clutch throughout the postseason.
Tkachuk's impact isn't just felt in the offensive zone. He has stepped up his defensive game in the playoffs while still being an absolute pest for other teams and getting in their heads'.
Some have called the Panthers a “team of destiny” in these playoffs, and Tkachuk is a big reason why. And yet, he isn't even the favorite on his own team despite all his heroics.
1. Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers
That's because Bobrovsky is stealing the show in these playoffs. Before this postseason, Bobrovksy's tenure with the Panthers was subpar at best. He rarely played to his $10 million AAV contract, and often found himself behind his supposed backups. Hell, he wasn't even the starter entering the playoffs, with that honor instead going to Alex Lyon.
This postseason though? A complete redemption for the two-time Vezina winner. Since Bobrovsky took over the net in Game 5 of the first round, the Panthers are 12-1 and that's no coincidence. He has a .935 save percentage, 2.21 goals against average and has saved 19.7 goals above expected.
Bobrovsky has outright stolen games for the Panthers this season, even ones where they had much fewer shots and scoring chances than their opponent. Take Game 3 against of the Eastern Conference Final, where the Carolina Hurricanes outshot the Panthers 32-17 but lost 1-0 because Bobrovsky turned into a brick wall. Without his heroics, the Panthers likely lose to the Boston Bruins in the first round in five games.
Bobrovsky's run of redemption has been simply incredible to watch this postseason. There's an argument that he could win the Conn Smythe even if Florida loses, provided he continues his great play. It goes without saying that he would much prefer to win the Stanley Cup, but the Conn Smythe Trophy would certainly be a nice bonus.