Thursday, June 10, 20103:16 PM
By Brett Ballantini
PHILADELPHIA -- Although Jonathan Toews was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the most valuable player of the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs, the choice wasnt completely cut and dry. Numerous Chicago Blackhawks had dominant enough postseason stretches to make them worthy of the honor.
Heres a position-by-position snapshot of the top Hawks over the course of four postseason rounds and 22 games.
Jonathan Toews, Center
Toews was the Blackhawks best two-way player throughout the playoffs -- and on a team featuring Marian Hossa, thats saying something.
Dustin Byfuglien, Left Wing
Big Buff started and ended the playoffs on relatively flat notes, but his middle -- dominating efforts vs. the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks, where he gathered four of his NHL-best five game-winning goals -- is enough to earn him placement as Chicagos top left wing of the playoffs. Byfuglien did yeoman work as an emergency replacement defenseman during the Nashville Predators quarterfinals and shifted almost seamlessly back to offense when blueliner Brian Campbell rushed back from a broken collarbone to play in Game 4. Elevated to the top line alongside Toews and Patrick Kane in yet another of coach Joel Quennevilles masterstrokes on the fly, Big Buff established himself as a premier offensive force with his unique combination of size, quickness and overall nastiness -- and raised expectations for his star potential in the NHL.
Patrick Kane, Right Wing
To be sure, Kaner didnt have an exquisite playoff run, although he notched a team third-best 10 goals and second-best 18 assists and 28 points. The 21-year-old started quick vs. the Preds and potted one of the most memorable goals in Blackhawks history to extend Game 5 of the Nashville quarters into overtime after his club came just 14 seconds from must-win Games 6 and 7. How, might you ask, did Kane chase that extraordinary shorthander, after struggling on and off in the three subsequent series? By doing what franchise superscorers do -- sensing his team was in need and finding a way, against all odds and overcoming more than 20 minutes of personally draining ice time vs. a weighty opponent to strap Chicago to his back and win the Stanley Cup with a wicked wrister that fooled everyone in the house. Except Crazy 88.
Duncan Keith, Defenseman
Keith wins a lifetime hero pass from Blackhawks fans for his courageous comeback vs. San Jose to help seal a Stanley Cup berth, losing seven teeth from a vicious shot to the face and enduring to return to the game and preserve the Chicago lead. Of course, he also wins a lifetime pass for inking an extension that will keep him in town until hes 40, literally playing all of his days as a Blackhawk. Keith also quarterbacked both Canadas Olympic gold-medal winning defense and that of the Cup-conquering Blackhawks. Oh, and hes the frontrunner for the Norris Trophy as well. Another amazing year for a Hawks young star.
Brent Sopel, Defenseman
Sopel did more with less in these playoffs than anyone on the ice. Not blessed with speed or quickness, scoring talent that has diminished over time and ice time that often befits a third pairing, the Iron Giant stood tall. Half of his 54 postseason blocks (tying him for the team lead with Niklas Hjalmarsson) came in the first playoff series, at a time when Sopels tenacity was truly needed, as Nashville arguably presented the Blackhawks with their staunchest playoff opposition of all.
Antti Niemi, Goalie
No netminder in a throwback scoring series like this Finals is going to be heralded as the second coming, but there were stretches in this postseason where Niemi was nearly that, including two shutouts vs. Nashville that helped set the Blackhawks on course for the Cup (he was the first Blackhawks goalie to record two shutouts in one playoff series since Tony Esposito in 1973 -- heady company indeed). Overall, the rookie -- repeat, rookie -- compiled a .910 save percentage and 2.63 goals-against average in the course of the playoffs. His 16 wins and 1,322 minutes both set Blackhawks postseason records.
Brett Ballantini isCSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnikon Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawksinformation.