Just before he hoisted the Stanley Cup, Alex Ovechkin was awarded the Conn Smythe as the playoff MVP.
Ovechkin was certainly a worthy candidate, but was he truly the team's most valuable player in the postseason?
Evgeny Kuznetsov's 32 points are five more than Ovechkin's 27. That marks the most points in a single postseason since 2009 and the second most since 1997.
There is also Braden Holtby to consider. Holtby did not start Game 1 or Game 2 of the playoffs and the Caps lost both. He took over as the starter in Game 3 and the Caps never looked back.
Plus, who could forget The Save?
So was the Conn Smythe awarded to the right player? Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan debate who the real MVP of the Capitals' Cup run truly was.
El-Bashir: Evgeny Kuznetsov led the postseason with a whopping 32 points in 24 games. He also scored the OT goal that finally pushed the Caps past the Penguins.
Braden Holtby had the lowest goals-against average (2.16) and second-best save percentage (.922) of any goalie who made at least a dozen appearances in the postseason. He also made The Save, quite possibly the biggest stop in franchise history and certainly one of the most memorable saves ever in the Final.
A strong argument could have been made for either player to claim the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
I gave my vote to Alex Ovechkin. Why? On a game-by-game basis, he had the biggest impact.
The hardest thing to do in hockey is score goals. And Ovi did it 15 times, tying him with Sidney Crosby (2009) for the most in a postseason since 1997.
The last-minute winner in Game 3 vs. Pittsburgh? Ovi batted it out of midair.
That Kuzy goal that eliminated the Pens? Ovi had the primary assist.
The Game 6 win over Tampa Bay? Ovi didn’t record a point, but he set the tone with his physical play. His teammates took note.
How about Game 7 vs. the Bolts? Ovi scored 62 seconds in, and the Caps never looked back.
In the Final, he racked up three goals and two assists in five games. He also led his team in emotional GIFs.
Then there were the blocked shots. Ovi is known for putting pucks into the net, not putting body parts in front of them. In these playoffs, he happily threw himself in front of shots. Why? His commitment level was never higher.
For two months, with no days off, the captain was all-in. And the Caps followed his lead.
Regan: Holtby had the signature moment of the entire series with "The Save" in Game 2 and the playoffs certainly turned around for the Caps when he took the starting job back from Philipp Grubauer. Washington lost both games in which Holtby did not start, but went 16-6 after with him between the pipes.
Despite all of that, Holtby would have been a distant third on my ballot.
A hot goalie can steal a series in the playoffs, but the Caps never needed Holtby to do that. Even against the Tampa Bay Lightning, when the team faced elimination and he recorded back-to-back shutouts, the Caps so thoroughly outplayed the Lightning in both of those games you couldn't really say Holtby stole either one. He absolutely was a major factor in those wins as he was throughout the playoffs, but was not the MVP of the playoffs.
Kuznetsov's production through the postseason was absolutely incredible, but that does necessarily make him the team's best player. No game better illustrated that face than Game 6 against the Lightning. Ovechkin did not record a single point in that game, but he was undeniably the best player on the ice to everyone who was watching. The team fed off his emotion in what was one of the most impressive performances of the entire postseason.
And that's why Ovechkin deserved to win. His impact throughout the playoffs was about so much more than just points. Obviously Ovechkin's 15 goals and 12 assists were important, but the emotional lift he gave to the team was even more so. He played like he was not going to be denied the Stanley Cup this year and the team believed it too.
In my mind, there was a clear moment in which Ovechkin sealed the Conn Smythe. In the Cup-clinching Game 5 against Vegas, Nate Schmidt tied the game at 1 in the second period. Ovechkin drew a tripping penalty off the ensuing faceoff and scored on the resulting power play to put the Caps back ahead just 34 seconds after Schmidt's goal.
Kuznetsov's numbers put him in a separate class from everyone else, but the effort and emotion Ovechkin played with this postseason put him in a separate class as well. If you had to pick who had the greater impact, it's no contest. This was Ovechkin's playoffs, Ovechkin's Stanley Cup, Ovechkin's time.
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