Conn Smythe Watch: Fleury, Ovechkin leading MVP race

As the conference finals round gets started, Vegas Golden Knights netminder Marc-Andre Fleury checks a lot of boxes when it comes to candidates for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs. AP Photo/John Locher

We're down to the final four in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Washington Capitals, Winnipeg Jets and the expansion darling Vegas Golden Knights are all seeking their first championship. The Tampa Bay Lightning are trying to win for the first time in 14 years.

Here's a look at the individual players who have contributed to their success, and have put themselves in line for playoff MVP honors. Keep in mind this ranking isn't based just on their stats so far but also on how the voters might view their cases should their teams hoist the Cup.

10. Dustin Byfuglien, D, Winnipeg Jets

It's been a Big Buff lovefest this postseason, as fans rediscover the singular charms of the hulking Jets defenseman. He has 13 points in 12 games, four of them on the power play, to go along with 18 penalty minutes. His 26:17 of ice time per game is third most among players still active in the postseason.

9. Braden Holtby, G, Washington Capitals

Holtby has the numbers, with a .929 even-strength save percentage in backstopping the Capitals to their first conference final in 20 years. But more importantly, he's got the narrative: benched for the first two games of the playoffs, then reclaiming his starter's mantle with series wins against Sergei Bobrovsky and Matt Murray.

8. William Karlsson, C, Vegas Golden Knights

"Wild Bill" doesn't lead the Knights in points, as Jonathan Marchessault has 11 to Karlsson's 10. But Karlsson has one big selling point in his Conn case: that overtime goal in their Game 3 at San Jose. If the voters wanted to honor the team's top line, Karlsson might be its best representative.

7. Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, Tampa Bay Lightning

Hey, remember when Vasilevskiy played himself out of the Vezina Trophy race with a dreadful last few weeks of the regular season? Yeah, neither do we. The Lightning goalie has a .943 even-strength save percentage this postseason and has given up two or fewer goals in six of 10 games.

6. Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, Washington Capitals

While linemate Alex Ovechkin will likely get more Conn Smythe love for now, Kuznetsov has 14 points in 12 games and scored the knockout punch against the Pittsburgh Penguins with an overtime goal. He's got a knack for the dramatic. And for avian goal celebrations.

5. Connor Hellebuyck, G, Winnipeg Jets

The Jets' goalie has been stellar in his first postseason, posting a .942 even-strength save percentage. He has allowed two or fewer goals in eight of his 12 starts

4. Nikita Kucherov, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning winger has six goals in the postseason, and three of them ended up being game winners. He has 12 points in 10 games, half of them on the power play. And frankly, the Lightning's top line hasn't even kicked into its top gear yet.

3. Mark Scheifele, C, Winnipeg Jets

What a postseason Scheifele is having. He leads the Jets with 16 points in 12 games, including an NHL-best 11 goals. He also has already set a record: His seven goals on the road vs. the Nashville Predators established a new standard for road goals in a single series, essentially swiping home ice from Nashville on his own. There are other contenders on the Jets, but he's the leader.

2. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Washington Capitals

Despite the myths spun by his detractors, Ovechkin has always put up points in the postseason, and he has eight goals and seven assists in 12 games. What he hasn't always done is exert his will on a series the way he did against the Penguins, factoring in on three game-winning goals and setting the tempo in all but one game. The Capitals are in a conference final, and Ovechkin is having a stellar playoff. These facts are not unrelated.

1. Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Vegas Golden Knights

With a .958 even-strength save percentage on 248 shot attempts in 10 games, Fleury hasn't been just the best goalie in the 2018 playoffs but the best player, period. He's making the saves he should make (.925 low-danger save percentage) and the high-danger saves, too (.938). He's been the backbone and the heartbeat of this team and its remarkable run.