SAN JOSE – The conclusion of the second round is as good a time as any to begin speculating about possible Conn Smythe Trophy winners as MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Sharks’ Logan Couture is firmly in the discussion, leading the NHL in playoff scoring with 17 points (7g, 10a), including a franchise-record setting 11 against Nashville. Bovada.com even sets the Vegas odds at 19/2 for Couture to win the Conn Smythe, tied for fifth highest among players still in the tournament, and first among Sharks.
Couture centered the most consistent line in the second round for the Sharks, with Joonas Donskoi on one side and either Joel Ward or Patrick Marleau on the other. He has at least one point in seven of the last eight games.
“He was a big part of this series and been a big part of this team,” Joe Pavelski said after Thursday’s Game 7. “It’s tremendous to see. You need that, and you need those runs for stretches in the playoffs.”
Couture scored two of the biggest goals of the series against the Predators.
In Game 5, his breakaway score just 35 seconds into the second period gave San Jose a 3-1 lead, and Nashville quickly faded after that in a 5-1 Sharks win. In Game 7 it took him 36 seconds into the second period to increase San Jose’s lead to 3-0, when he gathered in a puck that Shea Weber turned over on the wall before blowing it by Pekka Rinne.
Couture played down his series success, attributing it to “a couple breakaways, a couple lucky bounces. Shea Weber doesn’t turn many pucks over like that. [Took] advantage of the opportunities I was given.”
The power play has played a huge role in Couture’s success, too, as eight of his 17 points have come with a man advantage. The Sharks’ power play is humming along at a lethal 31.0 percent in the playoffs, with 12 goals on 42 chances. Even when they’re not scoring, they’re looking dangerous.
“It's a game-changing weapon where they're at right now,” DeBoer said.
Couture, of course, endured a dreadful first half of the season, missing 30 of the first 35 games. He had to be carried off of the ice by his teammates at the Prudential Center after a freak injury in practice on Oct. 15, fracturing his ankle, and when he returned on Dec. 8, quickly departed again after two games when a blood clot developed in his thigh.
He returned on Dec. 30, though, and hasn’t let the lineup since. The Sharks posted a 32-15-5 record down the stretch with their second line center in the lineup.
DeBoer emphasized after Game 7 just how difficult Couture’s path has been.
"He was outstanding. He's just getting better. … I can't underestimate how traumatic an injury he dealt with in the first half of the year. Everyone saw how much we missed him.
“To get him back now, he's fresh, obviously. He's getting back to 100 percent, and we're seeing the season he maybe could have had had he been healthy all year. He's an elite player."