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And then there were four.

There’s a good chance nobody selected these four teams to be in the conference final when the NHL returned to play. Three of these teams aren’t in traditional hockey markets, a subtle reminder that parity is wonderful.

Not only have we gotten great hockey, but the individual performances have been spectacular. Whichever team wins the Stanley Cup will have a more-than-deserving Conn Smythe winner which is awarded to the MVP of the Stanley Cup Final.

Instead of a power ranking, this will be divided by team. Because if we list individuals and that team gets eliminated, then aren’t we silly?

Tampa Bay Lightning

Brayden Point: Steven Stamkos’ absence has not been a detriment for the Lightning, which put up eight goals in Game 1 against the New York Islanders on Monday in the opening game of the Eastern Conference Finals. Point has been tremendous at 23 points in 14 games, including a five-point performance in Game 1.

Stamkos has been ruled out for the series, so it might be Point leading the way to the Stanley Cup Final should Tampa advance.

Nikita Kucherov: No surprise that last year’s Hart Trophy winner is in the conversation with 21 points, and he too had a five-point night in Game 1. Kucherov remains dangerous and his play in the second half of the regular season has carried to the bubble.

Andrei Vasilevskiy: The Lightning are going to need Vasilevskiy at his best if they want to win the Cup, and so far, he is. His 11 wins are the most in the bubble and his 1.92 GAA is best among active goalies, as well as his .930 save percentage.

Those numbers greatly resemble another Tampa Bay goalie that should’ve won the Conn Smythe in 2004 — Nikolai Khabibulin.

Vegas Golden Knights

Shea Theodore: The Golden Knights’ leading playoff scorer, Theodore has turned the corner to elite status. He’s being called a Norris-caliber defenseman by his coach and teammates. Theodore has been clutch, reliable and highlight-reel worthy each time he steps on the ice.

And all it took was the Golden Knights selecting Clayton Stoner in the expansion draft to get him.

Mark Stone: The past few games have dipped Stone below a point per game as a playoff performer with Vegas, but he’s still the most impactful two-way player they have. Stone, who’s likely going to be the captain next season, can make defensive plays that can turn a playoff game. Vegas will need that the deeper this run becomes.

Robin Lehner: It depends how well, and how much, Lehner plays down the stretch. For now, he’s been great in 12 starts, posting a 1.99 GAA and .918 save percentage. Safe to say the Golden Knights got their money’s worth when acquiring Lehner at the trade deadline.

Just imagine, though: How mad would Marc-Andre Fleury’s agent Allan Walsh be if this happened? I’m intrigued at how far his photoshop skills can go.

Dallas Stars

Miro Heiskanen: While Theodore has elevated his game, Heiskanen has arrived and is ready to take over the league. His 21 points lead all defensemen and he’s been the driving force behind Dallas’ surprise run to the conference final.

When the Stars won the Stanley Cup in 1999, it was largely because of Ed Belfour, but they had reliability at the blue line. It’s been many years since Dallas has had a difference maker on defense, and Heiskanen is someone who can be a cornerstone for 15 years.

Denis Gurianov: A sleeper pick, Gurianov leads Dallas with eight goals through 17 games. In a postseason where Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin have been quiet, Gurianov has picked up the slack.

New York Islanders

Mathew Barzal: New York’s centerpiece has 14 points in the postseason, but Barzal is so fun to watch. It’s hard to pick one guy when there’s so much depth on Long Island, but the Islanders aren’t where they are if not for their top centerman.

Semyon Varlamov: It looks like Thomas Greiss and Varlamov will split time going forward, but I’d expect Varlamov to get more reps if they get past Tampa. He was stellar against Washington and was great in his two wins against Philadelphia. If New York has any chance of winning the Cup, it’s going to be with Varlamov in goal.


Islanders vs. Lightning: Tampa Bay put eight (!) goals on the board in Game 1, and it looks like the days off have benefitted them greatly. I don’t want to think New York has run out of gas. The Isles are deep and can respond in kind because of Barry Trotz.

I will give New York one more game. If they lose Game 2, it might be over. ISLANDERS

Last week: 0-1 

Season: 40-39 

About the Author

Danny Webster

Danny Webster is an NHL columnist at Gaming Today. He is a graduate of UNLV whose work also appears on, Vegas Hockey Now, and SB Nation.

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