What the 2020 Stanley Cup Final will not lack is a collection of legitimate candidates for the Conn Smythe Trophy.
The Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars have both rode several standout performances through three rounds, and to the first-ever NHL championship series contested inside a bubble — even with both down a legitimate star player for if not all, but most of these playoffs.
Here’s a look at the players who will warrant consideration from the voters after the Stanley Cup is awarded in the coming days.
Scaling the record books, it’s now becoming an all-time performance on the back end for Hedman, who seems to have emerged as the single-most important player for the Eastern Conference champion Lightning.
Hedman scored his ninth goal in Tampa Bay’s elimination triumph over the New York Islanders, placing him third all-time in goals scored by a defenseman in a single postseason run. He needs three goals in the Stanley Cup Final to equal the 35-year-old record set by Edmonton Oilers defenseman Paul Coffey.
Directly responsible for 17 percent of the team’s goals since their best-of-seven series opener versus the Columbus Blue Jackets, and now climbing to within one goal of the postseason lead, is merely the tip of the iceberg for Hedman, however.
The big Swede has logged over 500 minutes, or almost an hour more than the next highest-used Lightning defender, while also leading the postseason with 73 minutes logged in overtime. The advantage is almost always with the Lightning in those Hedman shifts, with the club securing 59 percent of the total shot attempts, while outscoring the competition an absurd 22-4 with its workhorse defender on the ice.
As injuries have piled up, Hedman has remained a steady and immensely positive influence, no matter how heavy the load.
Vasilevskiy hasn’t received close to enough praise for his brilliant postseason to date.
The Lightning netminder has logged every single second for the team through three rounds (plus those three qualification games) on its path to the Stanley Cup Final, and in those minutes kept a .931 save percentage.
Somewhat surprisingly, Vasilevskiy hasn’t recorded a shutout in his 19 games since the NHL’s restart, but has given up more than three goals in a loss only once, which means he’s essentially given the Bolts a realistic chance to win every single night.
What’s most impressive from Vasilevskiy has been his work in overtime. He’s made 64 saves on 65 shots across periods in the sudden death scenario, and managed to stop the first 58 shots he faced before the Islanders finally took one from the Lightning in a bonus period in Game 5.
Much of the Lightning’s success in these playoffs has to do with their ability to thrive in those pressure moments, and Vasilevskiy is the biggest reason they will carry a 5-1 overtime record into the Stanley Cup Final.
When his presence for the Lightning has quite literally been the difference between winning and losing, at least recently, to suggest that Point has been the most important piece for the club really isn’t all that much of a stretch.
The zip on Tampa Bay’s fastball was lost a touch when its most dominant forward picked up a suspected groin injury versus the Isles. The Bolts lost both games they had to play without Point, while seemingly only squeaking by when he was in the lineup, be it while labored.
Point’s nine goals, including two overtime winners, as well as his 25 points in 17 games are the foundation of his MVP campaign, but his game is much more than that. Point has really taken the mantle as the Lightning’s centerpiece from a forward perspective in the absence of Steven Stamkos, logging the most important minutes for Jon Cooper.
Kucherov is the league leader in postseason points, and it seems that he might be the fourth option for his team when assessing the MVP race.
Still the opportunity might be there for him to take a massive leap with Point, and a variety of other key Lightning players, seeming to be on the limp heading into the Final.
While it’s Vasilevskiy who may have clearly cemented his status as the NHL’s best netminder with his performance in these playoffs, the Stars should have total confidence in the offering they will send into the goaltending battle in the Stanley Cup Final.
After a .930 regular season in support duty, Anton Khudobin has taken the reins from the mysteriously-injured Ben Bishop, and the journeyman has emerged as something of a cult hero in Dallas with a brilliant run and viral contributions inside the Edmonton bubble.
Khudobin’s bid came into focus in the Western Conference final when he soundly outplayed one of the premier netminders in the game, Robin Lehner, making 153 saves on 161 shots for a .950 total save rate.
Khudobin may not have the most eye-popping numbers when looking at his complete body of work, but knocking off the Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and Lightning in succession would be an accomplishment worthy of individual hardware.
The Western Conference bubble served as an incredible showcase of the up-and-coming talent on defense in the NHL, and it seems fitting that Heiskanen is the last one standing.
The 21-year-old is the highest scoring defender in the tournament, and also the points leader for Dallas with 22 registered in 21 games. He will soon break into the top 10 in all-time production in a single postseason run from the blue line, and would need just four points to scale inside the top five to join the likes of Coffey, Brian Leetch, Al MacInnis, Denis Potvin and Ray Bourque.
Though the Stars have much more balance in comparison to the Lightning, Heiskanen is their minutes leader and responsible for taking on all the difficult matchups. He has acquitted himself well against two elite teams in Colorado and Vegas, maintaining positive numbers across the board and even better relative data.
It’s been a breakout postseason for Heiskanen. Now he can carry that shine onto the biggest stage.
We’ve seen the best of Jamie Benn recently.
The Stars captain has not exactly filled the net in the postseason, but he’s made up for the struggles of others while in the process of reverting back to the days when he dominated as one of the truly few elite power wingers in the game.
Benn’s been better and better as the postseason has gone along and was probably the most important skater for Rick Bowness in the series victory over Vegas, wreaking havoc in the offensive zone with physicality and attacking know-how. He scored a massive goal in the last three games of the series, each wins, and had a hand in more than half of the goals the Stars scored in the five-game triumph.
He’s up to eight goals and 18 points in 21 games for the postseason, which is the sort of production that blows his standard from a disappointing regular season out of the water. And he’s now nipping away at Heiskanen for the team’s scoring lead.
Benn could earn full value on that massive extension he signed four years ago if he delivers another throwback performance versus the Lightning, because it very well could be the difference.
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