With about 11 minutes to go in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night, media members of all stripes began tweeting about the odd position they found themselves in.
With a tied game and no clear dominant team in the third period, they were being required to vote on the Conn Smythe Trophy, given to the league’s playoff MVP. They had to submit those votes with 10 minutes left in the hockey game, and unlike in 2010 when it was a fairly forgone conclusion that Jonathan Toews would take home the hardware, it was anyone’s guess as to who would win it if the Chicago Blackhawks could knock off the Boston Bruins.
Obviously, the Hawks did win the Stanley Cup, and after the game, it was announced that Hawks winger Patrick Kane had won his first career Conn Smythe. The win made him only the fourth American in league history to win the award, joining New York Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch, Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas, and Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick in that group. It also marked the third consecutive year that an American has won the trophy, conclusive evidence that the nation is on its way to becoming a serious player in the hockey world.
Nationality aside though, the real question that the awarding of the trophy to Kane raised was this one: was he the right pick to win the award for the Blackhawks?
His resume in the Hawks’ 23 playoff games did turn out to be a pretty solid one. After a sluggish start, Kane upped his game as the playoffs wore on, leading the team in points with 19 and finishing just one assist behind both Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews for the team lead.
Kane’s streaky play in the postseason did lead some to question the decision, however. Patrick Sharp, who led all scorers this postseason with 10 goals, was a much more consistent performer throughout the postseason, both in his stellar offensive play and his underrated ability to provide pressure on the defensive side of the puck.
Also, there was goaltender Corey Crawford, who ended up with a 16-5-2 record in the playoffs to go along with a sparkling 1.84 Goals Against Average and a .932 save percentage. The former number was bested only by New York Islanders goaltender Kevin Poulin, who only played 26:13 in the Isles’ first round loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
So did either Sharp or Crawford deserve to win the Conn Smythe over Kane? The answer, ultimately, is yes. Kane did have an excellent Cup Final, and was a huge part of the Blackhawks winning the final two games of the Western Conference Finals against the Kings, but if consistency and performance throughout the postseason is the true metric, then Crawford should have won.
Yes, he had his shaky moments, including a silly goal he gave up to Cal Clutterbuck in the first period of the first game of the Hawks’ Cup run, as well as surrendering five goals to the Bruins in Game 4 of the Cup Final, but after all of those missteps, Crawford did what champions do: he bounced back and buckled down.
His play in the last two games of the Final was nothing short of spectacular. He made the saves he needed to in order to keep the Hawks ahead in Game 5 of the series, and when the Bruins threw the kitchen sink at Chicago in the first period of Game 6, it was Crawford who made save after save to keep his team within striking distance.
Even Kane himself thought that he had teammates worthy of the award, and he mentioned Crawford specifically to the media in his postgame press conference:
Patrick Kane on winning the Conn Smythe: "Other guys could have won it. Look at [Corey] Crawford. He probably got snubbed a little bit."
— Mark Potash (@MarkPotash) June 25, 2013
In a series whose narrative was dominated by talk of Crawford’s weaknesses after that Game 4 debacle, it was the 28-year old Montreal native who ended up having the last laugh. Kane may not be an unworthy Smythe winner, but Crawford was ultimately more deserving.