June 06, 2011
Should the Vancouver Canucks win the Stanley Cup, Ryan Kesler(notes) is literally the odds-on favorite to win the Conn Smythe: Bodog had him at 7-to-5 before the Stanley Cup Final began, followed by Tim Thomas(notes) (4/1), Henrik Sedin(notes) (6/1) and a gentleman by the name of Roberto Luongo(notes) (13/2).
The media names the Conn Smythe winner for playoff MVP, and there's no question Kesler has been mentioned in conjunction with that award for the better part of the playoffs.
His stout defensive effort in the opening round against Jonathan Toews(notes) of the Chicago Blackhawks was given a new appreciation after his offensive explosion in the second round against the Nashville Predators, in which he scored 11 points on his team's 14 goals. Overall, he's tied for third in the playoffs with 19 points heading into Monday night's Game 3 against the Boston Bruins.
Which means, fellow math majors, that Kesler has scored 8 points in the team's other 14 playoff games — and only two goals.
Which brings us back to Luongo, and why this always under-appreciated goaltender might be constructing a case for Kesler's Conn Smythe.
This debate would have seemed absurd on April 24. Kesler wasn't scoring. Luongo had been pulled in consecutive games, and Cory Schneider(notes) was given the start in Game 6 against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Lost in that drama was the fact that Luongo posted a shutout in Game 1 — one of three opening-game shutouts on his résumé this postseason — and played well in the Canucks' three wins to open the series. He had a competent relief appearance in Game 6, followed by a 31-save performance in Game 7.
After the Blackhawks series, Luongo has allowed two goals or less in 10 of 14 games; his overall GAA is 2.16, but that's inflated by the 15 goals in four games he surrendered against Chicago.
Simply put, he's given his team a chance to win in nearly every game, even if he's rarely determined to be the difference-maker in the games. Entering Monday night's game, the Canucks had won four in a row and Luongo had stopped 151 of 157 shots in those wins. Which is pretty damn good.
Others have had their highlights. Kesler won a series for his team — there's no other way to put it. He also scored with 14 seconds left to tie Game 5 of the series against the San Jose Sharks and made that brilliant play at the blue line to help set up Raffi Torres's(notes) game-winner in Game 1 of the Final. Alex Burrows was the hero of Game 7 against the Blackhawks and Game 2 against the Bruins. Henrik Sedin is leading the NHL in playoff points after lighting up the Sharks.
But maybe slow and steady wins the race. (And this may be the first time a tortoise has been evoked in a playoff discussion that didn't involve Claude Lemieux(notes).) Maybe Luongo, despite the pitfall against the Blackhawks, has been the backbone of this Cup run.
The best arguments against Lou are that (a) Kesler and Burrows have both made legendary contributions, while Luongo hasn't had that one quintessential moment of playoff glory; and (b) that the blue line is front of him is stacked like Katy Perry holding a plate of pancakes, making this run easier than it might have been otherwise. He's needed to be solid, not spectacular, and it's spectacular that earns one immortality.
But the essential question for an MVP candidate is: Where would this team be without a given player?
Would the Canucks be in the Final without Kesler? Without Henrik? Without Burrows? Without Luongo?
They've all been important. Luongo, in the end, could be the most important.