Who should win the Conn Smythe Trophy?

by Gary Shelton on July 7, 2021

in general

Vasilevskiy needs to stand tall one more time./CHUCK MULLER

Wednesday, 4 a.m.

So who matters more: the fast Russian who keeps putting the puck into the net, or the big Russian who keeps keeping it out?

That has become part of the sub-text of this year's Stanley Cup finals. Who deserves to win the Conn Smith award: Nikita Kucherov or Andrei Vasilevskiy? The Big Cat or the Whirlwind?

Pretty much, it is down to these two. Oh, Carey Price could win it if the Canadiens win three in a row, but that's hard to see from here. Brayden Point could earn himself some mention with a hat trick. Ryan McDonagh is the darkhorse candidate.

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Pretty much, however, it's down to Vasy and Kuch. The reliable goaltender vs. the human highlight film.

Personally, I'm going to go with Vasilevskiy, although I think most sentiment would be with Kucherov. After all, Kuch is the better story. He's a guy who missed the entire regular season -- every second of it -- and has come on to lead all skaters in points. He has 32 points in 22 games, more than nine points ahead of everyone else. Only Point (14) has more goals than his eight.

But what the last playoffs have shown is what a marvelous playmaker Kucherov is. He has 24 assists.(and 51 in the last two seasons). Only Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux have more than Kucherov's 64 points in two post-seasons (although Gretzky did it four times).

And the thing is, Kucherov doesn't get those accidental assists, where a guy passes to another guy who passes to the goal scorer. An amazing number of Kuch's assists are dazzling, watch-it-again passes. He handles the puck like a great artist handles a paint brush.

So why, for crying out loud, would you think that Vasilevskiy's performance has been better.

Well, because of this: It's a goalie's game. He plays the prime position in the sport. Excel there, and you forgive a lot of a team's flaws.

And that's what Vasy does. He's the human eraser. A defenseman loses his opponent; Vasy makes up for it. The team is shorthanded; Vasy makes up for it. He's closed out four straight playoff games with a shutout. Would it surprise anyone if he did it again?

Know this. If the Bolts win tonight, or anytime in the next three games, it will likely because Vasy plays well. Consider this. The Bolts have won 15 times in the post-season. Vasy has allowed two goals or fewer in 13 of those games. He's let in three goals or more eight times; the Bolts have lost six of those.

In other words, he's vital. Oh, I know. The league seems to love to overlook Vasy. He leads the league in wins every year, but he's won the Vezina just once.

Kucherov? As amazing as he is, he's not flawless. Six times, he's played without a goal or an assist. The Bolts are 3-3 in those games. He's very important, but he's not a goaltender.

Pick your own favorite. The Lightning are a team of stars, and a lot of players have had memorable moments.

But in the ultimate game, I think the Bolts have to have Vasilevskiy. It would be very nice if they had Kucherov.

To me, that's the difference.

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