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Breaking down the best candidates for the Conn Smythe Trophy

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The Golden Knights have their definitive MVP. The Washington Capitals have a few. Here are some of the potential candidates for the 2018 Conn Smythe Trophy.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Winnipeg Jets at Vegas Golden Knights
Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (29) catches the puck
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Conn Smythe Trophy is annually awarded to the most valuable player in the playoffs. At least it’s supposed to be, anyway. Often it goes to the best story or most famous player on the winning team. Still, as the Stanley Cup Final rapidly approaches, a few players on both the Vegas Golden Knights and the Washington Capitals have separated themselves as their respective team’s MVP. Let’s take a look.

1. Marc-Andre Fleury

Marc-Andre Fleury has been by far the best goaltender in the playoffs to this point, and he is perhaps the main reason the Golden Knights have made it this far. Looking at the stats, he’s head and shoulders (and chest and hips and thighs and knees) above the rest of the competition.

So far through the postseason, Flower has a .947 save percentage, 1.68 goals-against average and four shutouts. He leads all goaltenders (who played more than five games) by .019 in the save percentage category and by .36 in the goals against average category. Plus, he has at least twice as many shutouts as everyone else. He also has by far the best 5-on-5 save percentage with a .961. Again, he’s basically standing on everyone’s shoulders at this point.

His current run shouldn’t be surprising given his performance in the regular season. Among goaltenders who played at least 40 games, Fleury’s .927 save percentage was second overall, and his 2.24 goals-against average was first overall. But even so, he’s still the backbone and the motor of the Golden Knights.

If Vegas comes out of this postseason with the Stanley Cup, it will be because of Fleury’s incredible run. He deserves the Conn Smythe, and he should win it unanimously. If the Golden Knights don’t win, he still might receive a few votes.

2. Alex Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin has completely shed the “can’t perform in the playoffs” label with an incredible run this postseason. He leads the Capitals with 12 goals (highest among active players), is second on the team with 22 points and is tied for the lead with two game-winning goals.

But his play has gone above and beyond his goal and point totals. His leadership on and off the ice, his relentless play in all three zones, his underrated playmaking abilities and the way in which he uses his immense physicality to set the tone are just a few of the qualities he has brought to the Capitals’ most successful playoff run in 20 years.

Ovechkin is the best story on the team, and the Capitals have relied on his abilities all year. He continues to be lethal on the power play (four goals, second-highest on the team) and is shooting 15 percent through three rounds. Goaltenders are not finding it easy to stop him, and he’s doing whatever it takes to help his team win.

If the Capitals win this series, Ovechkin will be one of the main factors, and he’s one of the best players in the NHL. The voting committee will be willing to give the award to Ovechkin if he wins his first Cup, and he will have earned it.

3. Braden Holtby

Braden Holtby has been awesome since making his first start of the postseason in Game 3 against Columbus. He has collected the third-best save percentage (.923), trailing only Fleury and Martin Jones, as well as the second-best goals-against average (2.04) among goaltenders that have played at least five games. Holtby has been a game-changer for Washington, and he has looked the part, especially while recording back-to-back shutouts to close out the third-round series against Tampa Bay.

Depending on how things play out in the Stanley Cup Final, it’s possible Holtby won’t be able to outdo what Ovechkin has done for this team, but the goaltender might be the better player in the postseason. After all, Holtby has only lost six games, and Ovechkin has failed to find the scoresheet in five (though three of those were losses). Holtby has only had one game where he gave up more than 3 goals, and he has the second-best 5-on-5 save percentage at .939.

If this comes down to a goaltender battle and Holtby wins, he deserves the Conn Smythe. Will he get it? Maybe not. But he’s been exceptional and deserves to be acknowledged.

4. Jonathan Marchessault

A lot is going to have to happen for Vegas’ leading scorer to steal the Conn Smythe from Fleury.

Jonathan Marchessault is going to need to score at least two of the four game-winning goals for Vegas, he’s going to need to continue to drive possession as part of the best line in hockey, he’s going to need to score upwards of 10 points, and Fleury can’t earn another shutout.

In fact, Fleury might even have to get hurt on top of all of that, and Malcolm Subban would need to step in and be equally excellent.

Still, Marchessault has been fantastic this postseason. He looks like one of the best players on the ice every shift he takes, and his 18 points through 15 games paces the Golden Knights. He’s tied for 11th overall in points per game (1.20), is ranked 10th overall among players who have reached the second round or later and is second overall among active players, trailing only Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Marchessault’s eight goals are also the most on the Golden Knights, and he’s in a three-way tie (with Alex Tuch and William Karlsson) for the lead with two game-winning goals. He’s been a constant presence up front for the Knights, and if he can somehow out-perform Fleury in the Cup Final, he could get somewhat of a look.

Other potential candidates

Evgeny Kuznetsov (11 goals, 13 assists, 24 points) - Leads all players in points (24) and has been a key cog in Washington’s successful top line throughout the postseason. Kuznetsov has looked like the center Washington has needed him to be in the past, and he has scored clutch goals. His 1.26 points per game is the highest among active players.

Shea Theodore (2-5—7) - Leads the Vegas blue line in points and has been defensively sound throughout the postseason.

Nate Schmidt (2-4—6) - Has been Vegas’ best defensive rearguard and can change the game with a quick breakaway. He could play a crucial role in shutting down some of Washington’s star players like he did against Winnipeg with Mark Scheifele. This should be a truly exceptional revenge series against his former team, which could turn some heads.

John Carlson (3-13—16) - Has been Washington’s best all-around defenseman all year, both offensively and defensively, and he has elevated his game one step further throughout these playoffs. Carlson has looked really solid ahead of signing a new contract this offseason, and he could push himself to true excellence for his pending pay day.

Marchessault’s Lamborghini - The Golden Knights are 3-0 when Marchessault drives his tricked-out Lambo to the Knights’ home games. With home-ice advantage through the Cup Final, if the Golden Knights go undefeated at home, things look good for that car.

Barry Trotz’s Hot Lap - Head coach Barry Trotz took the “hot lap” around the rink at the start of practice in order to shake things up and keep everyone loose. The Capitals went on to beat Tampa Bay 4-0 in Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final. If the Capitals dominate the Cup Final, his motivation might have something to do with it. Wind sprints sometimes pay off.