There are always heroes in the NHL playoffs, but some stand out more than others. Here's a look at the favorites for this season's Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP). Our NHL experts will rank them after each game until someone hoists the hardware. (Information below updated through Game 4 of the Cup finals.)
1. SAMUEL PAHLSSON
• Cup Finals stats -- G: 1; A: 0; PTS: 1; +/-: 1; PIM: 6; SOG: 7; ATOI: 18:47.
• Overall (20 games) -- G: 3; A: 8; PTS: 11; +/-: 7; PIM: 18; SOG: 26; ATOI: 19:56.
• Summary: A relatively anonymous figure who earned his first nomination for the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward this season, Pahlsson has had a monster playoffs, including scoring the game-winner in Game 2 of the Cup finals. He could become the first defensive forward to earn playoff MVP honors since Bob Gainey in 1979.
Trend: The defensive specialist reflects the team's heart and soul as much as anything. He once again helped make Ottawa's big line irrelevant, especially in the late going.
2. JEAN-SEBASTIEN GIGUERE
• Cup Finals stats -- Record: 3-1; GAA: 2.25; SV%: .898.
• Overall (17) -- Record: 12-4; GAA: 1.94; SV%: .925; Shutouts: 1.
• Summary: After a family issue kept Giggy out of the lineup at the start of the playoffs, the Ducks goalie has been solid ever since. No matter the traffic in front of him, he is rarely out of position when shots come his way.
Trend: OK, he appears not to know where the puck is half the time, but Giguere continues to make the saves that count when they count.
3. DANIEL ALFREDSSON
• Cup Finals stats -- G: 2; A: 1; PTS: 3; +/-: -2; PIM: 0; SOG: 10; ATOI: 22:06.
• Overall (19) -- G: 12; A: 8; PTS: 20; +/-: 4; PIM: 10; SOG: 64; ATOI: 23:05.
• Summary: Alfredsson has played his entire 10-year career in Ottawa and is playing in his first Stanley Cup finals. After posting 29 goals and 58 assists in the regular season, the captain's top line has been dominant heading into the finals.
Trend: Apart from rifling a puck at Scott Niedermayer at the end of the second period, Alfredsson was much better in Game 4, scoring the opening goal of the game and leading all forwards with 26:56 in ice time.
4. RAY EMERY
• Cup Finals stats -- Record: 1-3; GAA: 2.5; SV%: .905.
• Overall (19) -- Record: 13-6; GAA: 2.16; SV%: .916; Shutouts: 3.
• Summary: Some have noted that Emery has yet to be tested in these playoffs, but the netminder has helped Ottawa reach the Cup finals after earning the starting spot for the second straight season.
Trend: Emery made a couple of big saves to keep the game close.
5. CHRIS PRONGER
• Cup Finals stats -- G: 0; A: 0; PTS: 0; +/-: 2; PIM: 4; SOG: 6; ATOI: 28:33.
• Overall (18) -- G: 3; A: 11; PTS: 14; +/-: 8; PIM: 26; SOG: 58; ATOI: 31:33.
• Summary: Pronger is part of arguably the best defensive one-two punch in the league with Scott Niedermayer. The Ducks rely heavily on the big D-man's ice time.
Trend: Served a one-game suspension and did not play. A member of the NHL's frequent goon program, Pronger is no longer a factor in the Conn Smythe race.