Makar, Vasilevskiy ahead as Stanley Cup Final begins

The 2022 Stanley Cup Final is here with the Colorado Avalanche meeting the Tampa Bay Lightning, which means it is time for another updated look at the 2022 Conn Smythe watch for playoff MVP.

Both teams have several strong candidates going into the Final, but there are a couple that have separated themselves from the pack.

Let’s take a look at the competition as it sits heading into Game 1 on Wednesday night.

1. Cale Makar, Colorado Avalache. A sensational player whose performance has reached an entirely new level in the playoffs. Through Colorado’s first 14 games he is averaging 1.57 points per game, an unheard of number for a defenseman at this point in the playoffs, while also helping the Avalanche defense shut down opponents and dictate the pace of the game. He has been the best player on the ice every time he goes over the boards.

When he is on the ice during 5-on-5 play Colorado has more than a 60 percent share of total shot attempts, scoring chances, high-danger scoring chances, and expected goals, while also outscoring teams by a 22-13 margin. Add that to his point total, his power play impact, and the fact he already has an overtime game-winning goal and his performance is even more dominant. In terms of overall impact he has been unmatched through the first three rounds.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]

2. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning. His regular season numbers were down a bit (for his standards) and he had a slow start in the First Round against Toronto, but he remains the most clutch goalie in the league and is again showing why he is the best big-game goalie in the business. When Tampa Bay has had a chance to advance this postseason he has been nearly unbeatable, while he carries an overall save percentage of .928 in the playoffs.

He has again played every minute in net for the Lightning (just as he did the past two postseasons on their way to the Stanley Cup) and is the biggest game-changer they have. The Lightning do not have quite the same depth as they did on their previous two Stanley Cup runs, but they still have an all-time great in net who is again stealing the show.

3. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. He might not be able to catch Connor McDavid to lead the league in playoff scoring for a third year in a row, but Kucherov remains the driving force behind Tampa Bay’s offense and is having another sensational postseason. He already has 23 points in 17 games and has scored some huge goals for the Lightning. He enters the final on a five-game point streak and already has seven multi-point games this postseason, including three three-point games and one four-point game.

4. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche. MacKinnon has been consistent, dominant, and at times looks like he has been shot out of a cannon during games. The most stunning number so far: He leads the playoffs with 82 shots on goal even though the Avalanche have only played 14 playoff games entering the Final. That is a 5.85 shots per game average. He is everywhere.

[Related: NHL Power Rankings: X-Factors for 2022 Stanley Cup Final]

5. Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning. He doesn’t get as much attention as some of Tampa Bay’s other core players, but he has been a key cog in this machine over the past eight years and he is having an outstanding postseason. Especially since joining the top line with Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. Palat enters the Final with 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) in 17 games, and scored two key game-winning goals late in games in the Eastern Conference Final to help the Lightning erase a 2-0 series deficit.

6. Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche. Like MacKinnon, he has simply been steady, solid, productive, and at times dominant. If Colorado wins he would have some ground to catch up on Makar and MacKinnon in the Conn Smythe race, but he is at the very least in the discussion.

[Related: Avalanche-Lightning to meet in Stanley Cup Final]

7. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning. Stamkos scored four goals over the last four games of the Eastern Conference Final, including the only two goals in a 2-1 win in their series-clinching Game 6 win, to help the Lightning complete the comeback against the New York Rangers. Overall he has nine goals in 17 games this postseason and has been a major part of the newly formed top line with Kucherov and Palat. With Brayden Point sidelined and the depth not as strong as it has been in recent years the Lightning really needed their superstars to shine this postseason. Including Stamkos. They all have.

8. Devon Toews, Colorado Avalanche. Do not call him underrated. He is just a really good player, a bonafide top-pairing defenseman, and having a sensational playoff run for the Avalanche. He and Makar are a dominant duo, and while Makar is the one that mostly drives the bus for that pairing Toews is an outstanding player in his own right. And he is having a great postseason. One of the many trade steals for Joe Sakic and the Avalanche over the past few years. He is great in the Avalanche transition game and has been outstanding offensively.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Conn Smythe watch: Makar, Vasilevskiy ahead as Stanley Cup Final begins originally appeared on NBCSports.com

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