Crosby, Kessel, Murray in discussion for Conn Smythe Trophy

The Pittsburgh Penguins could claim their fourth Stanley Cup victory on Thursday night and the playoff MVP will be crowned. Here's the case for three potential winners: Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, rookie goalie Matt Murray and, be still your hearts, Leafs fans, Phil Kessel.

With Penguins 1 win away from Stanley Cup, the debate has begun

Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, pictured above in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, is one of the front-runners to claim the Conn Smythe Trophy should the Penguins capture the Cup. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Pittsburgh Penguins are a single win away from securing the franchise's fourth Stanley Cup championship. 

And while it ain't over until it's over, barring a San Jose Sharks series comeback the debate over which Penguin should be awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP has already begun. The award is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.

The players most being talked about are Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, rookie goalie Matt Murray and, be still your hearts, Toronto Maple Leafs fans, Phil Kessel. 

We present the case for each:

Sidney Crosby's value goes beyond numbers

"Conn Smythe winner" is one of the few designations that has eluded Crosby in his 11-year NHL career, as the award was given to Evgeni Malkin when the team last won the Cup in 2009.

Statistically, Crosby doesn't appear to be the clear choice, his six goals and 11 assists so far this post-season putting him just seventh among scoring leaders. However, three of those goals were game-winners in the Eastern Conference final against Tampa Bay, and those numbers also reflect his commitment to the Penguins' defensive approach.

But mostly, what Crosby has shown is a leadership that might have been missing in recent playoffs. His control on the ice was on full display when Crosby helped orchestrate Conor Sheary's Game 2 overtime winner from the faceoff circle. 

Phil Kessel makes transition from dud to stud

Once maligned winger Phil Kessel is proving his detractors wrong with his impressive playoff run. In his first season with the Penguins since being traded over the summer from Toronto, Kessel leads his new team with 10 goals and 21 points this spring, iincluding two assists in the Penguins' 3-1 win in Game 4 Monday night.

Kessel has been one of Pittsburgh's most consistent performers, only once going more than two games without registering at least one point. 

It's unfortunate the honour can't be shared with his HBK linemates Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonino, but Kessel is definitely giving Pittsburgh the spark they were hoping for.

Matt Murray steps up to outshine Fleury

Would the Penguins be where they are had Marc-Andre Fleury been healthy enough to start the post-season? It's debatable given his spotty playoff performances since that 2009 Cup run.

However, what isn't debatable is that Murray has exceeded expectations in taking over for Fleury, who missed the start of the playoffs with a concussion. The 22-year-old Murray has shown veteran poise, going 5-0 in games following losses en route to collecting 14 victories and a .925 save percentage. 

Honourable mention: Kris Letang 

Not to be forgotten is defenceman Kris Letang, even with his one-game suspension in the second round for a hit on Washington's Marcus Johansson. He's been a workhorse for the Penguins throughout the post-season, averaging 28:50 of ice time each night and registering 13 points going into Thursday's Game 5.


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