RALEIGH, N.C. -- Cam Ward delivered one of the most dominant rookie playoff performances of all time and was a well-deserving winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Ward, the fourth rookie to win the award, was 15-8 with a 2.14 goals-against average and .920 save percentage.
Still, there's a special place in our hearts for a few others. So here are our five alternative Conn Smythe winners.
1. Chris Pronger, Edmonton Oilers
Although he did not end up on the right side of the ledger in his first trip to the Stanley Cup finals, this spring proved to be a revelation for Chris Pronger. In the past, his playoff performances had been marked by untimely penalties and a lack of discipline. This year, Pronger led all players in ice time and played like a true champion from beginning to end, leading the Oilers in scoring with 21 points. During the last half of the third period, as the Oilers tried desperately to even the score in Game 7, it seemed like Pronger never left the ice. Frankly, it seemed like that for the entire playoffs.
2. Cory Stillman, Carolina Hurricanes
The anonymous sniper, Cory Stillman, made Carolina GM Jim Rutherford look like a visionary for signing him to a multiyear deal when no one else wanted to take a chance on him. Stillman finished second in playoff scoring with 26 points and constantly produced big goals at crucial times. He also disproved the theory that he was a perimeter player by going into heavy traffic areas and never backing down from an opponent. Even more, he became something of a go-to guy in the dressing room, a major contributor on and off the ice.
3. Jussi Markkanen, Edmonton Oilers
Right until the very end, there was a Cinderella quality to Jussi Markkanen's playoff story. Certainly, many believed Markkanen would turn into a pumpkin in short order; he allowed five goals on 26 shots after being pressed into service as the Oilers starter in Game 2. Yet after replacing the injured Dwayne Roloson, the unflappable Finn took the Oilers to the brink of their first Stanley Cup in 16 years by stopping 104 of the next 112 shots he faced in the series. In Game 7, he made a handful of spectacular pad saves to keep the Oilers close, finishing with 24 saves on 26 shots. "As I said to Jussi after the game, I have never seen a guy come in under that much pressure and hold himself together so well and play so well for us," Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish said. "And the way that he played, you talk about good things happening to good people at times."
4. Fernando Pisani, Edmonton Oilers
At the beginning of the series, someone asked Carolina coach Peter Laviolette what he planned to do to stop Fernando Pisani. And people laughed. No one's laughing now after the unheralded forward finished the postseason with five game-winning goals and 14 overall, including the only Oilers tally in Game 7. An unrestricted free agent, Pisani's stock shot through the roof thanks to his stellar play this spring. "I think it's quite clear he's on the path again," MacTavish said after Game 7. "He was a great threat again [Monday]."
5. Rod Brind'Amour, Carolina Hurricanes
As much as Cam Ward played his way to a Conn Smythe Trophy, there is a school of thought that Rod Brind'Amour played himself out of one. And that may be true. Certainly, over the last three games of the finals series, he was not the dominant force he was earlier. But the Canes don't get here in the first place without the man who is the undeniable leader and driving force in the Carolina dressing room. "Since Game 5, there was a great big lump in my chest. I have just been feeling it," Brind'Amour said. "When you have so many guys who deserve it and you just want it so bad, not just for yourself but for the guys sitting beside you, your dad and your kids, guys that have been with you ... it's exhausting."
Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.