It is proving to be a taut competition, changing by the game, shifting momentum and all that you come to expect at the highest level of sport.
The Stanley Cup Final?
Things have a way of turning in a playoff series — just ask the San Jose Sharks. With the Kings holding a 3-0 lead over the New York Rangers in the best-of-seven series, there seems to be far more suspense about the Conn Smythe Trophy, given to the player judged most valuable to his team during the NHL playoffs.
A highly informal survey at this point in the series has Kings defenseman Drew Doughty leading with right wing Justin Williams closing fast, based on his stellar performance in the Final. Williams has one goal and six points in the first three games of the Final.
Williams has eight goals, 24 points and leads the league with a plus-14 rating in the playoffs.
It says something about the depth of the Kings that the league’s leading scorer in the playoffs, Anze Kopitar, is not being mentioned in the first or second breath. This is despite navigating against the No. 1 center in the first three rounds, a formidable trio of Joe Thornton (Sharks), Ryan Getzlaf (Ducks) and Jonathan Toews (Chicago Blackhawks).
Clearly, Kopitar and his 26 points and center Jeff Carter’s 24 points are part of the Conn Smythe conversation too. And who can overlook Marian Gaborik and his league-leading 13 goals, three more than Carter’s 10?
The award is voted on by a selected panel of Professional Hockey Writers Assn. members. There are 11 voters, three from the Los Angeles chapter, three from New York and five at large. Times reporters are not permitted to vote, per newspaper policy.
Kings goalie Jonathan Quick was the Conn Smythe winner in 2012 and Ducks defenseman Scott Niedermayer won it in 2007 when the Ducks beat Ottawa in the Final. Goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, then of the Ducks, won it in 2003 when Anaheim lost to the New Jersey Devils in a seven-game Final.
“That’s an award that a lot of NHLers obviously aspire to have,” Williams said Tuesday, sitting with Doughty at Madison Square Garden. “But at the same time when you’re presented with it, I think a lot of guys just want to put it aside and look to the big jug. That’s pretty much how I can explain it.
“To be even mentioned with these big guys in that conversation is awesome. But, hey, the big one is what matters. Yeah, I want to taste it again.”
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter was hard-pressed to find a direct comparison to Williams in his previous coaching stops in Chicago, San Jose or Calgary. Williams, who has been called “Mr. Game 7" by virtue of his exploits in playoff runs, has brought his talents to Games 1, 2 and 3 of the Final.
“Good question. Just trying to think of guys I played with and then guys I coached,” Sutter said. “I’d probably have to think about it because there’s not one guy that jumps out as the very same. Unique. I’ll come up with one, but too much going on there. I’ll get you a good one.”
Only five defensemen have won the Conn Smythe in the last 30 years — Al MacInnis of Calgary (1989), Brian Leetch of the Rangers (1994), Scott Stevens of the Devils (2000), Nicklas Lidstrom of Detroit (2002) and Niedermayer.
Doughty, who potentially could win a second Stanley Cup title to go with two Olympic gold medals before turning 25, has been the Kings’ engine. He played 41-plus minutes in their double-overtime victory in Game 2 against the Rangers. His goal in Game 1 was of highlight-reel quality and then there is his off-the-charts hockey IQ.
He saved an almost certain goal by Rick Nash in the second period of Game 3 by taking a hooking penalty, showing an instinctive presence of mind.
“I think that play in particular, [Rick] Nash a very forceful player for them the last two games, and you’re going to have to match his skill set to make a play like that,” Sutter said. “Nash is a special player, and so is Drew Doughty. You’re talking about two guys that made special plays there.”