With the Stanley Cup Final heading back to San Jose for Game 6, the Penguins will have a second chance to close out the Sharks. If they are able to, the only remaining question will be who wins the Conn Smythe Award as the playoff MVP. If Pittsburgh is able to win tonight, there are a handful of Penguins who can take home the hardware, with these three leading the charge:
Sidney Crosby– The Penguins captain hasn’t produced at the point per game consistency he usually does but he has still been very productive with 17 points in 23 games. Crosby’s top-notch puck protection and vision have allowed him to control the play in the offensive zone. Not only has he dominated offensively, but Crosby has played a consistent 200 foot game. Crosby’s calming presence in the defensive zone has helped stabilize what was thought to be a below average defense, especially after the injury to Trevor Daley.
Phil Kessel– The addition of Kessel and his monster cap hit before the season seemed questionable, especially after Pittsburgh started the year as one of the lowest scoring teams in the league. Don’t look now but Kessel has been the Penguins leading scorer these playoffs. Kessel has one of the quickest releases in the NHL and he hasn’t been afraid to shoot the puck, boasting a league leading 95 shots (for reference teammate Patric Hornqvist is second in the playoffs with only 77 shots). Kessel has been incredibly consistent, being held scoreless in just 7 of 23 games.
Matt Murray– No one expected 21 year-old Matt Murray to be in this conversation, let alone between the pipes in the Stanley Cup Final for the Penguins. Murray has been an absolute revelation for Pittsburgh since he was called upon in game 3 of the first round against the New York Rangers. Murray has posted a 2.14 Goals Against Average and .923 Save Percentage since being named the starter. Without Murray stepping up, Pittsburgh would be in huge trouble. Back up goalie Jeff Zatkoff was pulled for Murray after playing poorly in the first series and Marc-Andre Fleury struggled mightily after returning from injury.
If the San Jose Sharks are able to take care of business at home, the series will return to Pittsburgh for a winner-take-all Game 7. If they can take down the Penguins, there are plenty of Sharks who deserve the Conn Smythe. These are the three at the top of the list:
Logan Couture– Logan Couture leads the league in scoring these playoffs with 29 points in just 23 games. Couture’s playmaking ability has been a nightmare for opposing defenseman, setting up linemates Patrick Marleau and Melker Karlsson. The second line combination has worked wonders for coach Peter Deboer, forcing opponents to play a game of pick-your-poison when deciding to play its top pairing against either Couture’s line or the first line of Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, and Joonas Donskoi.
Brent Burns– Burns leads all defenseman in playoff scoring with 23 points in 23 games. Penguins defenseman Kris Letang is second with just 14 points. Burns has been dominant on the offensive side of the puck. He is uncommonly poised handling the puck on the blue line, and is a force joining the rush and carrying the puck into the offensive zone. Where Burns is typically criticized is in his own zone, but he has been terrific there as well. He is second in the playoffs in plus/minus at 11, only trailing teammate Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Martin Jones– Martin Jones is the reason the Sharks are still alive playing in a game 6. In game 5 Jones stood on his head, stopping 44 of 46 shots. The Sharks were severely outplayed but Jones time and again bailed out his team with terrific pad work. Jones has posted a 2.16 Goals Against Average and a .922 Save Percentage.
My picks: If the Penguins win, Sidney Crosby. If San Jose pulls it out, Martin Jones.