Friday, May 25, 2012

NHL: Prime Time Performers

The Stanley Cup is reaching its climax and the best performers are already playing dominant roles in getting their sides to the pinnacle of the NHL. Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings is leading his team through a dominant run to the finals.

Meanwhile, netminders  Jonathan Quick and Henrik Lundqvist, two of the NHL picks from this season, seem impossible to beat, and those performances can only make picking the Conn Smythe Trophy winner all the more difficult.

Being triumphant in a Stanley Cup takes a mammoth effort from all concerned but there is usually one player who comes along to drive the team to the final goal and plays at a higher level than anyone else. We could have written a fairly long list of players who are capable of this but time and space limit us to picking three.

So where to start; well a good place would be with the only man to have won consecutive Conn Smythe Trophies – Mario Lemieux, who was a focal point of the Pittsburgh Penguins franchise which won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992.

Lemieux led the NHL in playoff points with 44 points in 23 games in 1991 then 34 points in 15 games in 1992. Only Wayne Gretzky has scored more than Lemieux’s 44.

Talking of Gretzky that’s where we go next and we could hardly leave him out of a list such as this as “The Great One” holds nearly every major regular season honour offensively and is the NHL’s all-time leader in career playoff goals, assists and points.

Not a single player has ever, or probably will ever, produce as much offense as Gretzky did at any time in his career, including the playoffs, where he is the only player in history to score more than 40 points in a playoff run – his 47 in 1985 set a record that may never be beaten.

But while this may be heresy to some the fact remains that Gretsky did not win a Stanley Cup without Mark Messier in the team while Messier did just that without Gretsky

Those that bet on hockey will tell you that Messier won six Stanley Cups in his career, including two without the help of hockey’s greatest offensive player of all time.

If you needed scoring, you went to Gretzky. If you needed to win the Stanley Cup, you went to Messier, whose remarkable will to win and leadership qualities mark him down as one of if not the most influential post-season performer of all-time.

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