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The Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks begin the 2011 Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday; and after either team earns its fourth victory, the Chalice will be carried out and awarded to that victor's captain.

In between the Cup presentation and Gary Bettman being lustily booed by thousands of fans, the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP will be handed out to the most valuable player for his team in the playoffs, as determined by a panel of Professional Hockey Writers Association voters.

(That a trophy signifying playoff excellence was modeled after the former home of the Toronto Maple Leafs has always been a source of endless amusement for us.)

A couple of things to remember about the Conn Smythe. First, goaltenders and defensemen aren't ostracized like they are in the voting for the Hart Trophy. The playoff MVP has gone to a goaltender 14 times and a defenseman nine times since 1965; compare that with four Hart trophies to defensemen and three to goalies in the same span.

Also, the Conn Smythe has gone to a member of a losing team five times ... and four of those MVPs were goaltenders, Mr. Thomas and Mr. Luongo.

So which Bruins and Canucks have the inside edge in the race for the 2011 Conn Smythe?

Here are the MVP candidates, ranked in order of odds-on favorites as the Final begins:

1. Ryan Kesler(notes), C, Vancouver Canucks

Conn Smythe Odds Before Playoffs: 100/1

Kelser is fourth in the NHL playoffs with 18 points and tied for fourth with seven goals with eight other players. There's no question he's the favorite for MVP heading into the final round — quite a feat for a player who didn't tally a goal until Game 3 against the Nashville Predators in the semifinals.

His storyline: Rather than lightning the lamp in the first round, he prevented Chicago Blackhawks star Jonathan Toews(notes) from doing so until Game 7 with stellar defensive play. Then Kesler did what no other player in the Stanley Cup Final can claim to have done in this postseason: He won a round on his own, scoring 11 points on the Canucks' 14 goals in the series, turning in what's been called one of the greatest individual playoff efforts in franchise history.

Against the San Jose Sharks, he scored goals in Game 4 and in Game 5, which was the game-tying goal with 14 seconds left in the third period.

He'll need more offense in the final round to close out the Conn race, but the return of Manny Malhotra(notes) could free up Kesler offensively as it did in the regular season.

2. Tim Thomas(notes), G, Boston Bruins

Conn Smythe Odds Before Playoffs: 25/1

The argument for Thomas in the Conn Smythe race is a lot like the argument for Thomas in the Hart Trophy race: Beyond his stellar numbers (2.29 GAA, .929 save percentage), he's the backbone of this team and often its emotional catalyst.

Like in that 44-save effort against Montreal in 89 minutes of Game 5; his stonewalling of the Philadelphia Flyers in that sweep; and, of course, his 57 saves on 58 shots in Games 5 and 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Sandwiched between those last two games was a 5-goal loss in a pond hockey game in Tampa, and Thomas has given up 4 or more goals in four of 18 games. But he's also followed two of those efforts with shutouts, including Game 7. That's the resiliency championship teams need from their netminder, and Thomas has provided it.

3. Henrik Sedin(notes), C, Vancouver Canucks

Conn Smythe Odds Before Playoffs: 10/1

He was invisible. He was a goat. He was the reason the Canucks were letting a team like the Predators hang around in the semifinals.

There was a time when Henrik Sedin might not have been in this list, let alone third. He had eight points in his first 12 playoff games, skating to a minus-7. In his last six playoff games, Sedin has 13 points, including a 4-point effort in Game 4 against the Sharks. The "goat" now leads the playoffs with 21 points; if that total continues to climb in a Canucks' Cup victory, he could move ahead of Kesler for the Conn.

One drawback: His minus rating.

4. Nathan Horton(notes), RW, Boston Bruins

Conn Smythe Odds Before Playoffs: Unlisted

Sometimes, the Conn Smythe can be about the big moments, and there's no denying Horton's role in some of the biggest of the playoffs for the Bruins.

Horton won Game 5 of the quarterfinals with a double-OT goal, giving the Bruins a 3-2 series lead against Montreal. He scored the OT game-winner in Game 7 against the Habs, eliminating the Bruins' blood rivals. He tallied seven points in the sweep of the Flyers. Then, against the Lightning, he scored four points in the final three games, including the game-winning goal in Game 7's 1-0 Bruins victory. Horton became the first player in NHL history to have two Game 7 game-winners in the same playoffs.

Any further heroics, and a Bruins' Stanley Cup could lead to Horton hearing his name as MVP. (One strange note: He's scored just six of his 17 points on the road.)

5. Roberto Luongo(notes), G, Vancouver Canucks

Conn Smythe Odds Before Playoffs: 15/1

His struggles against the Blackhawks seem like a distant memory. In fact, since Game 5 against Chicago, Luongo has allowed more than two goals just three times in his last 13 playoff appearances.

He's a stealth MVP candidate for the Canucks, given the attention Kesler and Sedin have received. But anyone that's watched Vancouver roll through the Western conference knows that Luongo has come up big when they've needed him — Game 5 against San Jose being one such case, in which he was flawless in the first period and OT.

To win the Conn Smythe, he'll have to be the best player of the final round for a victorious Vancouver team. And that's a hell of a storybook ending for Luongo if that occurs, given his playoff past.

6. Patrice Bergeron(notes), C, Boston Bruins

Conn Smythe Odds Before Playoffs: Unlisted

Like Kesler, Bergeron is in this conversation for his defense and his offense. He has 15 points in 16 playoff games, and was torrid in that tough opening round against Montreal. He missed the first two games of the Tampa series with that "mild concussion," and didn't tally a point in the final two games. But his 62.3-percent faceoff winning percentage is stellar, his effort is well-respected, and a few big moments in the final round could move him ahead of Horton.

7. David Krejci(notes), C, Boston Bruins

Conn Smythe Odds Before Playoffs: Unlisted

Krejci's four game-winning goals and 17 playoff points are gaudy stats that when combined with a strong final round could lead to a potential MVP. Could flip-flop with Bergeron, but the problem with Krejci is that he had one point in the Bruins' opening round.

8. Daniel Sedin(notes), LW, Vancouver Canucks

Conn Smythe Odds Before Playoffs: 10/1

He was a difference-maker in the first round, and has eight goals in the postseason. His brother has stolen the spotlight, however, and it's going to take a huge stats explosion in the Final to get Daniel the Conn Smythe … problem, of course, being that his numbers are usually matched by those if his sibling linemate.

9. Zdeno Chara(notes), D, Boston Bruins

Conn Smythe Odds Before Playoffs: 60/1

Not a great playoff points-wise for the big guy, as he has just five (a product of the suck-tastic Boston power play, no doubt). But he leads all skaters with a plus-11 and could gain some traction if he plays an integral role in shutting down the Sedins. Unless of course he's matched against Kesler instead …

10. Kevin Bieksa(notes), D, Vancouver Canucks

Conn Smythe Odds Before Playoffs: Unlisted.

He's got five playoff goals, including one weird-ass one to eliminate the Sharks, to go along with four assists and some rock-solid shutdown defensive play. Probably can't outshine his teammate for the Conn, but stranger things have happened.

No, seriously: We've seen stranger things happen.

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