The weather is heating up and so is the “Coolest Game on Earth.” The 2021 Stanley Cup Final is finally upon us.
After a 56-game sprint and three rounds of high-octane playoff hockey, the NHL is down to the final two teams: the defending champion Lightning and the NHL’s most decorated franchise, the Canadiens.
While a team-first mentality is always the key component to a successful postseason run, there are a few players who have risen to the top for the coveted Conn Smythe Trophy, given to the best player in the postseason. Will this be the year we see the trophy handed to someone on the losing team? Or will it be someone skating away with not one, but two trophies in July?
Sporting News ranks the top five MVP candidates entering the Stanley Cup Final:
2021 Conn Smythe power rankings
5. Phillip Danault, Canadiens
You’re probably wondering how he got here. While he only has three assists in 17 games, Danault has become an integral role in the Canadiens reaching this point. The Quebecois centerman — alongside linemate Brendan Gallagher — has shut down the opposition’s top guys: The Maple Leafs’ Mitch Marner and 2021 Rocket Richard Trophy winner Auston Matthews in the first round, the Jets’ Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor in the conference semifinals and the Golden Knights’ Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone in the finals. Zero goals by six guys who all scored more than 20 in a 56-games-or-fewer regular season when facing Danault and crew.
Plus, he breaks out the pizza for the postgame press conferences so he’s got swag too.
Stanley Cup Final: Predictions, schedule, odds for Lightning vs. Canadiens
4. Nikita Kucherov, Lightning
Kucherov missed the entire regular season recovering from hip surgery and, despite not playing a lick between the end of September and May, has returned in tip-top scoring form. In 18 games he accumulated five goals and 27 points — 17 of those on the power play.
3. Brayden Point, Lightning
It was hard to pick a No. 2 between Point and Kucherov but the Calgary native’s three game-winners push& him past his teammate. Like last season’s Cup run, Point has been a game-changer for the Bolts. Last season he collected 33 points (14 goals, 19 assists) in 23 games. This season he has already hit the 14-goal mark in just 18 games and has chipped in six assists. He tickled the twine in nine straight games — one behind the record by Reggie Leach — and has scored in all but five games this postseason.
2. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Lightning
Once again, Vasilevskiy has put together a stunning postseason run: He has posted a .936 save percentage and 1.99 goals-against average in 18 starts. At 5v5, his save percentage rises to .939. He has an NHL-best Goals Saved Above Average (4.85) and High-Density GSAA (5.55), according to Natural Stat Trick. The 26-year-old, who is up for the 2021 Vezina Trophy as the league’s best regular-season goalie, has pitched shutouts in every series clincher, including a Game 7 win over the Islanders to reach the ultimate series.
1. Carey Price, Canadiens
If the Canadiens can pull it off to beat the star-studded Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final, it’ll all be because of Price. An always-calming presence between the pipes, he has once again elevated his game in the postseason. The netminder has been stellar in net, posting a .934 save percentage, 2.02 goals-against average and a shutout.
While shorthanded, he has allowed just three goals on 63 shots (.952 save percentage). with two of those being from high-danger spots. Even if the Canadiens can’t pull it off, Price has a good chance of being just the sixth guy to win from the losing squad, joining Roger Crozier (Red Wings, 1966), Glenn Hall (Blues, 1968), Leach (Flyers, 1976), Ron Hextall (Flyers, 1987) and Jean-Sebastien Giguere (Mighty Ducks, 2003).
2021 Conn Smythe odds
Odds as of June 28 and courtesy of DraftKings.com.