With just 2 or 3 games left to be played, it's fair to say that the battle for the Conn Smythe Trophy has been effectively narrowed down to 3 candidates. At this point, the winner will largely be determined by which team can win 2 more games.
Before we meet the candidates, let's review our history. Only 1 man in the last 20 years has won the award while playing for the losing team. There is nothing that suggests any of the candidates have risen so far above that they could pull off that coupe this season. A quick look at the last 10 winners shows that 3 have gone to goalies, 3 have gone to defensemen, and 4 have gone to forwards. The last 3 winners have been forwards. No defenseman can be considered a viable option at this point. So perhaps, it's time for a goalie to take the crown? Only if one can be found worthy. As it so happens, there is such a one.
Here are the front runners heading into Game 5:
Tim Thomas (G-BOS) - Thomas is a lock in for the Vezina Trophy for his work in the regular season. Apparently, he wasn't satisfied with adding just 1 more trophy to his case. He has kept his amazing numbers in tact, despite playing behind what can only be described as an average defense. Among goalies with 4 or more games played this postseason, he sits first in GAA (2.11), first in save percentage (.936) and tied for first in shutouts (3). Should he finish first in wins (in other words, the magic 16), it will be hard to argue against him as this year's leading candidate. Of the four playoffs opponents, only Tampa managed to show any sign of weakness in his game. Versus Montreal, Philadelphia, and now Vancouver, Thomas has proven to be single most dependable player for Boston.
David Krejci (F-BOS) - While the support for Thomas is impressive, a strong case can certainly be made for David Krejci. Following a slow start in the Montreal series, Krejci has been piling up the offense for Boston, scoring points in 12 of 15 games. He leads the NHL in post season points with 22 and goals with 11. Krejci has also had a knack for drawing penalties at key points in games by virtue of his incredible puck possession skills.
Ryan Kesler (F-VAN) - The case for Kesler heading into the finals was hard to dispute. He entered the series with 18 points in 18 games, heavily padded by his dominating performance against Nashville in Round 2. The last 3 games have not helped his cause, however, as he's without a point since his assist in game 1. Still, it's hard to argue with his numbers, as he is near the top in the league in goals (7), points (19), PIMs (43), hits (69) and game winners (2). It's also hard to find another Canuck that has been more valuable to his team throughout the postseason run. The case might have been made for Luongo, but the last two outings have effectively quieted that campaign. Should Vancouver claim their first ever Cup next week, Kesler should be the man receiving this trophy.
It's hard to imagine any other player entering the conversation at this point, short of an incredible run in the final few games. It would take a flurry of goals by either Sedin to enter the conversation and overtake Kesler on the Vancouver side. It would take a couple of shutouts by Luongo to seriously consider him worthy of the prize. On the Boston side, you could argue a case for Bergeron, or perhaps Chara, but neither can stand up to what Thomas and Krejci have done.
So who will win? --- This much is clear. If Vancouver wins the cup, Kesler takes the Conn Smythe hands down. If Boston completes their comeback, the 2010-11 season will long be remembered as the season of Tim Thomas.