With only four teams left, we keep an eye on the top candidates for the Conn Smythe Trophy to tell you whose stock is rising, whose is dropping and who is just treading water.
Despite battling an injury in the first round that later kept him out of Game 2 against the Flyers in the second round, the Russian star winger came back with a vengeance with seven points (2-5) over the final four games of the series, providing clutch play. He leads the Devils in scoring with 12 postseason points (5-7) and is second on the team in ice time at north of 24 minutes.
• Game 1: Not a bad outing for the Devils star as he was denied on a couple of great scoring chances, including one shortly after the Rangers took the lead early in the third period. Still, bottom line is Kovalchuk -- like the rest of the Devils -- didn't get it done offensively in Game 1.
• Game 2: The New Jersey sniper broke the ice for his team scoring the Devils' first goal of the series at 13:39 of the first period on the power play. Kovalchuk found space on the left side and ripped a shot past Henrik Lundqvist to give the Devils their first lead of the series. Kovalchuk was guilty of a number of errant passes that led to Ranger pressure but those miscues didn't cost the Devils.
• Game 3: The Devils were 0-for-5 on the power play and that failure, fair or not, is at least partially on Kovalchuk. The big winger was robbed on a third-period power play by Henrik Lundqvist and on an earlier breakaway (a second clear break was thwarted by a defensive play). But in general, Kovalchuk was not a real factor as the Devils were shut out for the second time in this series.
• Game 4: Apart from an ongoing feud with Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, which included what looked like a spear to Callahan's mid section after one exhange, there wasn't much to recommend Kovalchuk's play in Game 4. He did draw an assist on Zach Parise's power-play goal, but the real MVP on this night was Parise.
• Game 5: It is the mark of an elite player that he makes a difference even on a night when he's not at his best. Whether or not his back is continuing to bother him, Kovalchuk was a key part of the winning goal for the Devils, getting to the Rangers' zone first and allowing Stephen Gionta to set up Ryan Carter for the winner with less than five minutes left in regulation in Game 5. Kovalchuk also added an assist on the Devils' second goal.
No surprise, right? Lundqvist was already nominated for the Hart Trophy as the regular-season league MVP, so it stands to reason that the Rangers made it to the Eastern Conference finals because of their handsome Swedish king. He certainly hasn't disappointed during two grueling, seven-game series. Let's be direct here: The Blueshirts would have had zero chance of getting by Ottawa or Washington the way they played at times without their Vezina Trophy-nominated netminder. He'll need to be just as good, if not better, for the Rangers to get past New Jersey.
• Game 1: Lundqvist was "the" story of Game 1, collecting his second shutout of this postseason and the fifth playoff shutout of his career. Lundqvist was particularly steady in the second period when the Devils controlled the puck for long periods of time in the Rangers' zone and finished the night with 21 saves.
• Game 2: The King gave up a power-play goal and two goals on deflections, so you could hardly blame Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers' 3-2 loss in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final. Lundqvist stopped 24 of 27 shots he faced in Game 2 and robbed Ilya Kovalchuk at one point with a stop on a deflection that had Kovalchuk clutching his head in disbelief.
• Game 3: Once again Lundqvist was a wall for the Rangers, stopping all 36 shots he faced in recording his second shutout of the series. Lundqvist was especially solid through the first period and parts of the second when the Rangers struggled to find their legs. His arm save on Kovalchuk's clear break in the first was huge, as was his save at the very end of the first period on a Travis Zajac-Zach Parise 2-on-1. He came up big again in the third when the Devils enjoyed their best pressure on a late power play.
• Game 4: Not much Lundqvist could do on any of the three goals he allowed in Game 4. One was through a screen, one on a great shot by Travis Zajac on a 2-on-1 and the third off a rebound on a New Jersey power play. He made 26 saves and certainly the Rangers' 4-1 loss does not fall at the netminder's skates.
• Game 5: Not a particularly strong -- nor busy -- night for the Rangers' all-world netminder. Lundqvist allowed three goals on the first five shots he faced as the Devils built a 3-0 lead by the mid-point of the first period. He then allowed the winner from Ryan Carter, who beat him with a snap shot from about 15 feet out with less than five minutes to go in regulation after the Rangers had stormed back to tie the game early in the third period. In all, Lundqvist stopped just 12 of 16 shots he faced.
Sporting a remarkable .948 save percentage, the comeback kid from Kingston, Ontario, continues to write one of the most surprising stories of the season. Unwanted on NHL waivers in February 2011, he's arguably the hottest goalie in the world less than a year and a half later. Players on the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators marveled about the Coyotes' netminder after he knocked them out of the playoffs. Most notably, the Coyotes were badly outshot through the opening two periods in both of their series-clinching wins over Chicago and Nashville but went to the second intermission ahead on the scoreboard. Smith has single-handedly deflated the opposition with his brick-wall impersonation.
• Game 1: Smith was attacked in net, making 44 saves on 47 Kings' shots, and fought back in the first to get two minutes for roughing.
• Game 2: Phoenix's netminder faced another 40 shots in Game 2 and with the Coyotes trailing the Kings two games in the series, Smith's stock is dropping for Conn Smythe consideration.
• Game 3: He was outstanding in a another losing effort, stopping 26 or 28 shots, including 12 of 13 in the third period when the Kings bombarded his net.
• Game 4: Another fantastic performance in earning a 36-save shutout.
• Game 5: Smith went out playing as great as ever, making 47 saves on Tuesday night. He ends this postseason with a .944 save percentage and three shutouts in 16 games. A worthy Conn Smythe candidate up until the moment he was eliminated.
Quick leads the four goalies still standing in the playoffs with a ridiculous .949 save percentage. St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock -- whose team the Kings swept in the second round -- marveled at Quick's ability and hunger to search out rebounds and loose pucks, comparing his talent to that of Dominik Hasek and Ed Belfour, no less. "It's a unique ability," Hitchcock said. Quick earned a Vezina Trophy nomination for his regular-season play, as he helped the Kings earn a playoff spot despite putrid offensive support. He has simply carried that play into the playoffs, if not raised it to yet another level.
• Game 1: Quick rebounded from a couple of rare miscues to make some big saves during Phoenix's closing flurry. He finished with 25 saves on 27 shots.
• Game 2: Quick recorded a shutout to help the Kings win their seventh straight road playoff game.
• Game 3: Another solid night, although not a heavy workload, stopping 18 of 19 shots.
• Game 4: Allowed only two goals, but I didn't like the opening goal from Shane Doan on him. Quick gave away the angle there too quickly.
• Game 5: With some big saves in the third period and overtime, Quick has put his team in the Stanley Cup finals.
Ever since his name was bandied about in trade rumors before the February deadline, the Kings' captain has been a man possessed. Timely hits, clutch goals, he's done it all for the Kings while leading them in scoring with 11 points (6 goals, 5 assists) through two playoff rounds. His physical battles with Henrik Sedin in the first round and David Backes in the second round set the tone for both series. He's fully deserving of Conn Smythe talk through two rounds.
• Game 1: The Kings' leading scorer now with seven goals and six assists in 10 playoff games added a goal and an assist in Game 1, while clearly aggravating the Coyotes right off the bat.
• Game 2: Brown got another assist to increase is postseason total to 14 points.
• Game 3: Brown added an assist to pad his team-leading total to 15 points. Another physical effort and he was dominant on the puck.
• Game 4: He has been so dominant you really notice when he's just a tad below that. Not as great as usual in Game 4.
• Game 5: He created a storm of controversy with his hit on Michal Rozsival, but he also assisted on the Kings first goal of the game.