x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

The contenders for MVP award

So many superstars, but only one play-off MVP trophy. One of the many perks of a Pittsburgh-Detroit Stanley Cup final is the number of elite players taking part.

So many superstars, but only one play-off MVP trophy. One of the many perks of a Pittsburgh-Detroit Stanley Cup final is the number of elite players taking part. And with the Wings only two games away from their fifth cup in 12 years it is time to take a look at who is in the running for the Conn Smythe Trophy conversation and why. Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit, defenceman): He is so good you do not even notice him. The ultimate two-way defenceman, Lidstrom's presence has been paramount; he can completely negate the opposition's best players (just ask Chicago's Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane) while creating at the other end. He plays upwards of 30 minutes per game, and the Wings have to reshape their entire blueline on the rare occasions Lidstrom cannot go (as was the case in Games Four and Five versus Chicago). Why are Detroit so good, year after year after year? Lidstrom.

Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh, centre): The leading candidate for play-off MVP entering the final series against Detroit, Crosby's 14 goals and fiery, focused play has the Penguins on the march. It's hard to believe he's already playing in his second Stanley Cup final at the tender age of 21. If the Pens upset the Wings, the Conn Smythe is Crosby's. It might be anyway, even if they lose, if he scores like he did in the first three rounds.

Henrik Zetterberg (Detroit, centre): There has not been a back-to-back Conn Smythe Trophy winner since Mario Lemieux did the double in 1991 and'92. But Zetterberg, last year's play-off MVP, has a chance. Crosby or Malkin will end up leading the play-off point race, but Zetterberg will finish third or fourth. Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh, centre): Big and deceptively fast, Malkin took over against Carolina in the last round after Crosby had shown Washington the door a week earlier. The leading scorer in the regular season has a super-quick - and hard - release that handcuffs goalies and creates rebounds for his linemates. Malkin was a non-entity in the final last season - they're saying he was sick - and will surely be motivated to make up for the lost opportunity. Like Crosby, the 22-year-old Malkin is playing more like a man this time around and leads play-off scoring with 30 points.

Chris Osgood (Detroit, goaltender): Remember six weeks ago, when everyone agreed Osgood's awful regular season was the main reason the Wings would crumble in the play-offs? Turns out, everyone was wrong. Throw away Game Four against Columbus in the first round and Osgood has been sensational. He might not be as smooth as Martin Brodeur or intimidate like Patrick Roy, but the Wings goaltender is tracking his fourth Stanley Cup. Osgood came up huge in Detroit's triumph over Anaheim in round two, which was probably the most hard-fought series of this year's play-offs.

Marc-Andre Fleury (Pittsburgh, goaltender) Like Osgood, Fleury did not have a stellar year. But the Penguins player did improve in the second half of the season, and he was rolling by the time play-offs came around. His most impressive moments came against Carolina in round three, when he outplayed Cam Ward. Johan Franzen (Detroit, winger) The man they call Mule is finally starting to get some respect. Imagine a younger, bigger Tomas Holmstrom - who can skate - and you have got Franzen. He was a revelation in the 2008 play-offs, scoring a league-leading 13 goals in 16 games, and he's doing it again with 11 goals in 17 games (and a top-five placement among play-off scorers).

smccaig@thenational.ae