SUN Hockey Pool

Wide-open field for Smythe

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:50 PM ET

PHILADELPHIA ó And the Conn Smythe Trophy, to the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup playoffs, goes to...

Nobody?

Two games in to the Stanley Cup final and there is no clear cut favourite to win the Conn Smythe.

Jonathan Toews was probably the choice before the final began but Captain Serious and has been Captain Invisible through the first two wins by his Chicago Blackhawks. The best Blackhawk in the final, Marian Hossa, was found wanting in other rounds of the playoffs.

This could be a Pat Borders kind of year for the NHL: The playoff MVP has to go to somebody. The question is: Who?

And you canít really consider a Philadelphia Flyersí player, if they donít start winning some games.

In most years, it apparent by now who is and isnít Conn Smythe worthy. The list of candidates is usually significant, starting with just about every playoff goaltender. But, the comeback kid, Michael Leighton played horribly in Game 1, better in Game 2, but terrific in neither for the Flyers. Antti Niemi, who has outduelled Pekka Rinne, Roberto Luongo and Evgeny Nabokov in three rounds of the playoffs, has made two starts in the final: One good, one bad.

The one thing Niemi has done is get better in the third period of each game, with the Blackhawks holding a one-goal lead in each case. Thatís worth something but itís hardly vintage Conn Smythe goaltending. And Niemi may be the morning-line favourite to win the Conn Smythe, without a lot of conviction.

The old coaching cliche around this time is that your best players have to be your best players, but with Chicago halfway to its first Cup championship in 49 years, assuming there isnít another crazy Flyers comeback, the best players havenít been the best players for the Hawks.

Toews has generated little offence. Same for Patrick Kane, who has been so dangerous in the other rounds. And Dustin Byfuglien, who appeared unstoppable against the San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks, has just become another project for Chris Pronger to make holes at.

Pronger should get a Conn Smythe vote or 10, but itís difficult to consider a defenceman on the losing team ó especially if the Hawks win this series in short fashion.

And the other Flyers candidates coming in to the final, captain Mike Richards, will get the opportunity to see if he can get any offence going when he gets away from the Hawks checking line in Game 3 on Wednesday night, which he hasnít been able to escape thus far.

Bottom line: Chicago is two wins away from a championship and we are closer to knowing who wins the Cup than who wins the Conn Smythe.


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