The conference finals are here and the final four are locked in. The Pittsburgh Penguins will battle the Ottawa Senators and the Anaheim Ducks will take on the Nashville Predators. After an exciting second round, which saw every series go at least six games and two go to Game 7, some players have made their mark.
To limit this list from being too long we will pick one player from each team who has the best chance of winning the Conn Smythe award. Like all suspenseful lists, this one will go from fourth to first.
Ellis Leading from the Blue Line
It was hard not choosing Pekka Rinne after the postseason he’s been having, but I think a lot of his success stems from the defenders in front of him. The top-four of Mattias Ekholm, P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, and Ryan Ellis have been money all playoffs.
Those four have combined for 27 points in 10(!) playoff games and have a +20 rating. To compare that with the other remaining teams: the Senators have 24 points from their top-four defensemen in 12 games; the Penguins have 22 points from their top two pairings in 12 games; the Ducks have 27 points from their heavily rotated seven-man defense in 11.
Bottom line, the Predators have had the most impactful back end in the playoffs. Out of the four main defenders, Ellis has been the one who has stood out the most. Ellis is tied for the lead in points for the Preds with nine and is also tied for the lead in goals with four. Some of the biggest goals and moments in these playoffs have come from the stick of the heavily bearded Predators defender.
Marc-Andre Fleury’s Brick Wall
Picking a player from this talented Penguins team was difficult, to say the least. I was going to go with Evgeni Malkin at first, he does lead the playoffs in points with 18 after all. Sidney Crosby is being Sidney Crosby, which always qualifies him. I even considered Jake Guentzel, who has been a surprise, leading the playoffs with nine goals.
However, after watching the exhilarating Pens-Caps series I had to give it to Fleury. The Penguins have been outshot in 11 of their 12 playoff games. The Blue Jackets outshot the Penguins by 23, winning the shot battle in four of the five games. That’s nothing. The Capitals outshot the Penguins by 67 in seven games, winning the shot battle in every game! The only reason the Pens did not lose to the Caps was due to the outstanding play of Marc-Andre Fleury.
Ryan “The Beast” Getzlaf
If anyone saw Ryan Getzlaf in that second series against the Oilers then they know “beast” is the aptest term for his performance. He was the driving force behind the team and seemingly dominated play whenever he was on the ice. This was not an easy task considering they went up against Connor McDavid and the uberly talented, albeit inexperienced, Oilers.
Anaheim won their series against Edmonton largely due to Getzlaf and his beast-like performance. The Anaheim captain is second in the playoffs in goals, with eight, and third in points, with 16. He is also the leader in time on ice among forwards, at 23:54 per game. That is the time on ice expected for a number one or two defensemen. This demonstrates just how much Randy Carlyle leans on Getzlaf, and it has proven extremely beneficial to the Ducks.
What is there left to say about Erik Karlsson? He’s been an unstoppable force in the playoffs. The New York Rangers could do little to prevent Karlsson from wreaking havoc in their six-game series.
It is no coincidence the two games the Rangers won were the games they held Karlsson pointless.
The talented Swedish defenseman leads his team in points, mustering an impressive 13 in 12 games. Additionally, another crazy stat that can be talked about is his time on ice. TSN’s Bob McKenzie tweeted about Karlsson’s insane usage numbers in Game 6 of the Rangers series.
By my count, @ErikKarlsson65 played 6:27 of final 8:14 tonight. His performance since final week(s) of reg season has been other worldly.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) May 10, 2017
This is not so surprising considering he also leads the playoffs in time on ice per game, with 28:56. Second-placed Cam Fowler clocks in at 26:06, almost three minutes less. Couple this with the fact that Karlsson has played with hairline fractures in his foot for much of the playoffs and we’re approaching mythical status.
A more in-depth look at how good Karlsson is was written by The Hockey Writers’ Andrew Forbes that you can find here if anyone is still not convinced at this point. The best defenseman in the game right now earns the top spot on these rankings and he more than deserves it.