With game six of the Eastern Conference Finals upon us, we have a very unique and rare situation. Today the New York Rangers take on the New Jersey Devils, and are down three games to two in the series. They’re fighting for their play-off lives. Eighteen years ago on this very day, the exact same situation.
The difference, of course, is eighteen years ago NHL legend Mark Messier guaranteed a win and secured it with a hat-trick to win game six. The Rangers went on to win the Stanley Cup that year in a seven game series against the Vancouver Canucks. For many people, this is the series that cemented Mark Messier as one of the greatest leaders in all of sports, and possibly the greatest leader ever in hockey.
So what better time than now to announce our new feature: The Greatest Sports Leader of All-Time. This feature series will pit sports leaders against each other for fan votes to determine who really is the greatest leader of all-time. What we need from you is the nominees.
Sure we have a few of our own to put in the hat, but who do you think should be included in this argument? Leave your suggestions in the comments below, or tweet them at us @anpsports. We’re really looking forward to this fun and interactive series, so help us determine the all-time great sports leader!
I was talking with a friend today about the NHL play-offs while we were watching today’s New York Rangers / New Jersey Devils match-up (the Rangers won 3-0). An interesting point came up in our conversation: of the four teams remaining, who would be the Conn Smythe winner if any of them won the cup? It’s a deceptively easy question to answer, since in most situations it ends up being the goaltenders. But is that the case for these teams?
For the New York Rangers, a team getting by on an everyone buys in defensive mentality, every player has contributed. Both defensively and offensively it seems that the goal or big play they need comes regardless of who is on the ice. In a situation like this, defensive and contributions spread throughout the team, it’s hard to bet against a goaltender. Especially when that goaltender has a .942 save percentage, a 1.57 GAA, and leads the post-season in shut-outs with three.
New York Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist (G)
How about the rival New Jersey Devils? The Devils have long been the gold standard to which the rest of the league compared their defense. While those days are gone, the Devils are still an adept defensive club with a platoon of defensemen that don’t steal the limelight. With that said, the Devils do have two of the games bigger stars up front in Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise. Ilya Kovalchuk currently has cracked the top five in post-season goals, but teammate Parise is strangely absent. Goaltender Martin Brodeur sits eighth in the post-season in save percentage, and doesn’t crack the top five in any category besides shut-outs (he has one). A dark horse could take it here, watch for under appreciated guys like Bryce Salvador to sneak in with +/- of +8, which ranks him fourth in the post-season.
New Jersey Devils: Bryce Salvador (D)
How about the Western Conference? The Phoenix Coyotes have gotten this far on the back of their goaltender. There are no questions on that one. A save percentage of .942 has him tied for second with Henrik Lundqvist, and a GAA of 2.02 puts him fifth in the league. While things don’t look good for the Coyotes right now, if they come back and make it to the finals it will be on the back of Mike Smith.
Phoenix Coyotes: Mike Smith (G)
We haven’t talked yet about the red hot Los Angeles Kings, and that’s because this is an interesting battle. Two players have stood out for the Kings in their streak through the play-offs: goaltender Jonathan Quick, and forward Dustin Brown.Quick has a GAA of 1.41, and a save percentage of .951; both good enough to lead the league. He also leads the league in wins right now with 11. Dustin Brown is the heart and soul of the squad, and leads the league with a +/- of +12. He also sits second in scoring with fifteen points, third in goals with seven, and third in assists with eight (one behind teammate Anzi Kopitar). It’s a tight race, but I think the edge has to go to the captain, who has lead with guts and timely goals.
Los Angeles Kings: Dustin Brown (RW)
So it’s an interesting split. Two for the goalies, one for the defensemen, and one for the forwards. Who will take it all is anyone’s guess still. For any of these four remaining teams, what position do you think will win the Conn Smythe? Vote below!