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NHL Puck Drops: Conn Smythe contenders

Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand (63) celebrates with forward Marcus Johansson (90) after scoring a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first period in game six of the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena. - Dan Hamilton / USA TODAY Sports
Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand (63) celebrates with forward Marcus Johansson (90) after scoring a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first period in Game 6 of the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena. - Dan Hamilton / USA TODAY Sports - Reuters

NHL pundit susses out his Stanley Cup playoff MVP candidates

The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs are now down to four teams. The Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes are in the midst of the Eastern Conference Final. Meanwhile, the Western Conference Final pits the St. Louis Blues against the San Jose Sharks. 

It takes a team effort to reach the postseason's final four. However, several players on each club have stood out thus far. They could become contenders for the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the playoff's most valuable player. Here's a look at several favourites. 

Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins -  The sometimes hot-tempered Rask is Mr. Cool between the pipes this spring. With a 2.02 goals-against average and .937 save percentage, the 32-year-old is providing the Bruins with superb goaltending. He's a key reason why they hold a 2-0 series lead over Carolina in the Eastern Conference Final. 

Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins - With 15 points, Marchand entered this week as the Bruins' leading scorer. A proven postseason performer, he's taken his offensive skills to another level this spring. His agitating style and propensity for cheap shots, however, could hurt his chances of winning this award.

Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes - Like many of his Hurricanes teammates, Slavin toiled in near-anonymity in Carolina until this year's postseason. His performance this spring is garnering long-overdue acclaim. The 25-year-old defenceman is tied the team lead in points (11) and plays a responsible two-way game. 

Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes - Since his NHL debut in 2016-17, Aho has steadily blossomed into an offensive star for the Hurricanes. In his first Stanley Cup Playoffs, the 21-year-old centre is acquitting himself well. He's tied with Slavin for the club scoring lead. 

Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks - Couture was the playoffs leading scorer during the Sharks' run to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. Three years later, he's still an offensive dynamo in the postseason. The 30-year-old centre began this week leading all playoff scorers with 11 goals and 17 points. 

Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks - Three years ago, Burns' offence played a big role in his club reaching the final. The hirsute blue-liner is once again among the post-season's leading scorers but he's also playing a better defensive game. Burns also leads all players in ice time, averaging almost 28 minutes per game. 

Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues - Injuries and inconsistency limited Schwartz to just 11 goals and 36 points in 69 regular-season games. He's burst out in a big way this postseason, tallying a team-leading eight goals and 12 points in 14 games, including two game-winning tallies. He's also among this spring's leading goal scorers. 

Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues - Binnington's stats (2.58 goals-against average, .908 save percentage) aren't as gaudy as his regular-season numbers. Nevertheless, the 25-year-old rookie is providing the Blues with clutch goaltending in high-pressure games. He also has a remarkable ability to bounce back from a bad game. The unflappable Binnington simply goes about his business and gets the job done. 

Lyle Richardson is a freelance writer with Sporting News and runs the website Spector’s Hockey. His column will appear in The Guardian throughout the NHL hockey season.

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