If the Tampa Bay Lightning defeat the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Final, coach Jon Cooper said it will be difficult to choose one player from his team to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Lightning can win their second straight championship in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Montreal Canadiens at home on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS), after losing Game 4 3-2 in overtime on Monday.
“I think that’s a tough award,” Cooper said Tuesday. “More often than not it goes to a player on the winning team, so if Montreal wins I’m sure one of their players will win. If we happen to win, I think it’s a collective group that gets you here. I don’t think one guy stands out.”
Last season, members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association voted defenseman Victor Hedman the Conn Smythe winner, but Cooper said goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy or forwards Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov also would have been deserving. Cooper said he sees a similar situation this season with Kucherov leading the playoffs for the second straight postseason with 32 points (eight goals, 24 assists) in 22 games and Point again leading in goals with 14, including a nine-game goal streak that bridged the second round and the Stanley Cup Semifinals.
Vasilevskiy has a strong case for the Conn Smythe as well. He’s 15-7 with a 1.99 goals-against average, .935 save percentage and four shutouts, including three in series-clinching games.
“Everybody’s chipped in,” Cooper said. “‘Vasi’ has been outstanding. You can go up and down our [defense] corps, guys who have made an impact, and the forwards. ‘Kuch’ for the way he didn’t play in the regular season and the performance he’s putting on in the playoffs. ‘Pointer’ with his goal streak. Then you look at anybody on the [Yanni] Gourde line. Guys have stepped up and had their moments, but you can’t win without that.”
Cooper said defenseman Ryan McDonagh is overshadowed by many of his teammates and probably won’t get much Conn Smythe consideration but should. McDonagh leads the playoffs at plus-17 and has seven assists in 22 games, including one on Barclay Goodrow‘s goal in the second period Monday.
“First and foremost his leadership has been outstanding,” Cooper said of McDonagh. “He’s just a calming presence in the room. Just his demeanor in the locker room and then more importantly on the ice. His poised plays, the ones he made last night. … He’s a masterful defender and hard to get around. He’s just one of those guys that if we can win this Stanley Cup, he’s not going to get the Conn Smythe voting that other people will, but he surely deserves it.”
Cooper said he doesn’t think the players will care that much about who wins the Conn Smythe if they win the Stanley Cup.
“I think players want to raise the Stanley Cup, and the Conn Smythe, it’s something I guess you can tell everybody you won,” he said. “But everybody wants the Cup.”