Race wide open for Conn Smythe Trophy

It might be a little early to start talking about the leading candidates for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the play-off MVP, but it is better to be premature than to procrastinate.

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It might be a little early to start talking about the leading candidates for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the play-off MVP, but it is better to be premature than to procrastinate.

As the second round comes to a close, the race is wide open but a handful of players have a head start on the rest of the pack, with strong performances in the first month of the post-season.

In Vancouver, the Sedin twins might be back-to-back Hart Trophy winners as regular season MVPs and Roberto Luongo is a perennial Vezina Trophy nominee, but it has become clear that two-way star Ryan Kesler is the player that drives the Canucks.

He shut down Chicago's Jonathan Toews in Round 1, and has more points in the play-offs thanks to an offensive outburst in Round 2. Kesler is a leader, too, which makes him invaluable.

In Tampa Bay, Martin St Louis is the Lightning's pint-size version of Kesler. His offensive skills are second to none, but it is his leadership and heart that make him irreplaceable. Nobody works harder, and he demands the same from his teammates.

There are many reasons for Boston's success, but Tim Thomas is a good place to start. He has had a sensational play-off run, and is keeping pace with Nashville's Pekka Rinne as the most important goalie of the post-season.

Finally, Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk and San Jose's Ryane Clowe, whose strengths are very different, deserve a mention for providing the same thing: clutch scoring, exemplary leadership and consistent performance.