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Conn Smythe Trophy race: At this point question is which King?

By Brian Stubits | CBSSports.com

Drew Doughty has 17 points in 24 postseason games. (Getty Images)
Drew Doughty has 17 points in 24 postseason games. (Getty Images)

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The Los Angeles Kings are on the verge of another Stanley Cup, one win from their second title in the last three years. Given how strong they have been and the strong offensive outburst they have had in the playoffs, it's not much of a surprise.

Equally unsurprising is that with the Kings a game away from the Cup, the race for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason MVP is pretty close to an All Kings affair; especially if the Final ends on Wednesday night, there's no way a King isn't going to win.

With that part settled, the next question becomes which Kings player? LA has averaged 3.5 goals per game this postseason, leading to some pretty flashy numbers and on the whole, some pretty excellent postseasons from individuals. Picking one MVP is tough when you can point to four or five guys and debate which was the most valuable. On the bright side, though, it's tough to come up with a faulty choice.

The Stanley Cup will be in Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night and so will the Conn Smythe. With the potential for both to be handed out, Brian Stubits and Chris Peters check in on the Conn Smythe candidates at this point.

Peters

1. Drew Doughty (Los Angeles Kings): In a crowded field of worthy Conn Smythe candidates, my top choice would be Drew Doughty. In the 20 years Stanley Cup was raised on Madison Square Garden ice as it could possibly be on Wednesday night, only four defenseman have won the award, including Brian Leetch in 1994. The other three were Scott Stevens with the New Jersey Devils in 2000, Nicklas Lidstrom with the Detroit Red Wings in 2002 and Scott Niedermayer with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007. Doughty's postseason is comparable to all of theirs except for Leetch who was a point-producing freak for the Rangers 20 years ago (seriously, 34 points in 23 games).

With so many worthy forwards who impacted the Los Angeles Kings' roller coaster run to the Stanley Cup Final, Doughty has tough competition among his teammates, but there may be no player that has made as big an impact as Doughty.

The 24-year-old blueliner averages more than 28 minutes a game, pulling down a remarkable workload in an postseason run that has already included 24 games. He has 17 points so far, a plus-4 rating and has poured 52 shots on net. Defensively, he has often hit the ice as much as possible against opponents' top scoring lines and has done a solid job keeping them off the score sheet. He's probably been at his best yet over the last two series the Kings have played. When he should be getting worn down, he's getting better.

The thing I keep coming back to is what would happen to this Kings team without Doughty. I don't think they get very far. The Kings blue line is quite good, but so much of that is tied to Doughty. He plays in all situations, against any line, any time. According to ExtraSkater.com, Doughty has a 5v5 Relative Corsi of 1.5, meaning the Kings are controlling possession that much better when he is on the ice. It seems slight, but over the course of a postseason, how much he plays and who he plays against, it's pretty incredible. Considering how many puck touches he gets per game, he makes a lot of them count and it's showing up in the underlying numbers as well.

I'm not going to throw a fit if a forward wins over Doughty, because there are some real deserving ones listed below, but without Doughty, they don't have a chance to raise the Cup Wednesday.

2. Anze Kopitar (Los Angeles Kings): Arguably the best two-way forward going today, Kopitar's impact on the game is near Doughty levels, but I think it's just a tick below. This is a tough one, though, because Kopitar is also the postseason's leading scorer while absorbing the toughest defensive assignments for the Kings all playoffs. He has gone head-to-head against Logan Couture, Ryan Getzlaf, Jonathan Toews and now Derek Stepan and has done a really good job against all of them defensively. Kopitar has unquestionably made things more difficult for his opponents throughout the playoffs, but I still feel like Doughty drives more of what the Kings have been able to do this postseason.

3. Justin Williams (Los Angeles Kings): A matchup nightmare, Williams is good for far more than clutch scoring. He has been extremely difficult to contain and it seems like every shift of Williams' is an event. It's shown in the last two series as Williams has 13 points in his last nine games including six over the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final. The 32-year-old has had a huge hand in the Kings' success with 24 points overall, but I don't know that he impacts the game as much as the two guys ahead of him. It's pretty close though.

4. Jeff Carter (Los Angeles Kings): I think Carter is going to get several votes for the top spot in the Conn Smythe vote due to how dangerous he's been throughout the postseason. His 10 goals are second most in the playoffs to teammate Marian Gaborik, but I think Carter has arguably been more of a concern for opponents. His speed and natural scoring talent, as well as his move to center, has made him really tough on opponents. With Kopitar eating top line competition, that has left more opportunities for Carter to produce and the Kings have needed him to. He is tied for second in playoff scoring with Williams with 24 points. He's been awfully special this postseason as evidenced by his buzzer-beating goal in the first period of Game 3.

5. Ryan McDonagh (New York Rangers): The Rangers may look dead right now, but I've marveled at McDonagh's effort level throughout the final. He is out there so much and a lot of times he's doing a lot by himself. McDonagh's historic performance in the Eastern Conference Final lifts him into this category and if the Rangers find a way to miraculously come back, he should have a big hand in it. I don't think that's likely, but it's impossible to ignore the impact McDonagh has had on the Rangers all postseason. He has 16 points, has averaged over 26 a night throughout the postseason and nearly 32 per game in the Cup Final. This postseason should garner McDonagh praise as one of the league's top young defensemen.

Just missed: Marian Gaborik (Los Angeles Kings), Henrik Lundqvist (New York Rangers)

Stubits

1. Justin Williams: Let me preface this by saying I don't believe Williams will win the award and that it will go to Drew Doughty (or even Anze Kopitar) but perhaps Williams should be the one lifting the MVP trophy. The Kings have some stellar players up and down the ice to the point that Williams just slides under the radar but he's been so good for them this postseason, as he usually is. He has 24 points in 24 games, which are just two behind Anze Kopitar and tied for second most in the playoffs.

And only helping his case is that Williams seems to be just getting better. In three games of the Stanley Cup Final Williams has a goal and five assists already. And we all know Mr. Game 7 has delivered in those situations as well. In three Game 7s this postseason Williams has two goals and three assists; make it in Game 6 or Game 7 he has four goals and six assists. He's been at his absolute best in the biggest games.

A very strong Final so far will help his case as it will be freshest in the minds of voters but he does have a tough battle to win it. Of course, he doesn't really care if he wins the Conn Smythe or not.

"I mean, that's an award that a lot of NHLers obviously aspire to have," Williams said Tuesday. "But at the same time when you're presented with it, I think a lot of guys just want to put it aside and look to the big jug."

2. Drew Doughty: Doughty will most likely be your winner (assuming the Kings finish this off) and it will be very deserved. Doughty should have been a finalist for the Norris Trophy this season as one of the league's top three defensemen and he's showing why he should have this postseason. It seems that he's on the ice whenever you look as he is averaging 28:19 of ice time per game, including more than 41 minutes in Game 2 of the Cup Final.

Doughty's first job is defense and he does that extremely well but he's taken his two-way game up another couple notches in the postseason. Probably the biggest reason why he isn't a Norris finalist is because he only had 37 points this season. In the playoffs? He has 17 points in 24 games, one of the strongest offensive postseasons you'll see from a blueliner. If there is anything that works against Doughty it's that he hasn't been as obvious of a difference-maker in this Final ... except for his Game 1 goal of course.

Of course the Conn Smythe is for the entire postseason and not just the Final and it's hard to argue Doughty wasn't the best player by a mile through the first three rounds.

3. Anze Kopitar: Kopitar's candidacy of course starts with this simple fact that's quite the ace in the hole: he is the playoffs' leading scorer. With 26 points (five goals, 21 assists), he leads a trio of fellow Kings for that title right now. It's only right give that Kopitar has been their offensive leader for years now.

More than that, though, is all the assignments Kopitar has faced in this postseason. The Kings use him in the toughest spots so he's lined up against Joe Thornton/Logan Couture, Ryan Getzlaf, Jonathan Toews and now Derek Stepan, which is quite the collection of centermen. So not only has he scored against those guys but he's kept them quiet offensively, especially by their standards.

4. Jeff Carter: This really is such a tight race between Kings players that Carter is way down here. Like Williams, he is two points back of Kopitar for the lead and Carter joins Marian Gaborik as the only player in the postseason with double digits in goals as he sits as 10.

One of the Kings' saving graces this postseason when they have been in the holes has been Carter's line with Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, LA's third line. It brings a lot of speed to the table and especially in the Chicago series, really got going. Of course one knock on Carter is he gets a lot of "easy" minutes, not against the toughest competition and heavily tilted toward starting on the offensive end but he's been making a huge impact on games, particularly in the latter half of the playoffs.

5. Marian Gaborik: Gaborik is your playoff leader with 13 goals, a comfortable three-goal cushion on Carter. Even with that, though, Gaborik is probably out of the running here, he'd need a monster final game(s) to perhaps sway any mentions his way. That's not really an indictment of him as he has meant so much to this Kings team, but is a sign of how well his teammates are playing.

About the only way a Ranger sneaks back into this conversation is if they are able to push the series back to equal footing and if they do it will likely be because of Henrik Lundqvist. So if anybody from New York were to have any shot, it's almost guaranteed he would be the guy. If the Kings finish this series off with a sweep or in five games, though, it will be an all LA affair.

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