By Adrian Dater
First, a note: The NHL’s media corps was forced to vote on the Conn Smythe Trophy winner with 10 minutes remaining in the third period of Monday’s Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. Ask any regular NHL beat writer, and he or she will tell you that picking a game’s three stars is one of the most dreaded assignments in an NHL arena. Magnify that tenfold for picking the playoff MVP.
Understandably, there were more than a few “What the…?” proclamations on Twitter and elsewhere after the Blackhawks staged a miraculous 3-2 comeback victory to claim the Cup, and Gary Bettman announced Patrick Kane’s name amid the usual thicket of boos from the stunned TD Garden crowd.
Kane, after all, did not register a point in Game 6. He played only 19 minutes, nearly 10 fewer than Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith, the pick of many others in the media.
Additionally, two days after sitting out the third period in Game 5, captain Jonathan Toews scored a goal and assisted on the game-tying marker by Bryan Bickell. Toews was a popular MVP pick, and understandably so. Kane scored just two goals through the first 13 playoff games, which is hardly Conn Smythe material.
While Kane delivered a goose egg in Game 6, MVP trophies often go to the best candidate in the “what have you done for me lately” category. Kane did have two goals in Chicago’s key Game 5 victory and managed one in the game before that. He finished the playoffs with 19 points (nine goals), which placed him one ahead of Bickell for the team lead. So, in that statistical regard, the NHL’s ink-stained wretches can be excused for picking Kane. It looks good on paper.
Kane also made one huge play that didn’t show up on the official stat sheet in Game 6: a multi-deke, up-the-ice rush with the puck that greatly helped set up Bickell’s tying goal. With Crawford pulled for the extra skater, Kane put on a dazzling puck-handling show to get it deep in the Boston zone, where Toews eventually dug it out and fed Bickell for the score that shocked the Garden crowd. If Kane doesn’t make that play, we’re all talking about a Game 7 on Wednesday night in Chicago.
Kane again displayed a knack for kicking it into high gear during those big moments in Cup-clinching games on the road. It was, after all, his goal that won it all in Philadelphia in 2009, also in a Game 6.
This victory was a great cap to a great season for the kid formerly known as the NHL’s TMZ Bad Boy. We didn’t see any headlines about Kane’s off-ice antics this season. We didn’t hear any sordid stories about late-night cabs in Buffalo or nights on the town with college co-eds.
Kane has matured. And while he may not have been the best player in Game 6, he was the best player in the game that actually swung the series: Game 5. Add up all of the numbers, and it’s not so hard to defend Kane’s selection after all.
There will undoubtedly be aggrieved members of the “It should have been Toews or Bickell or Corey Crawford or, maybe even, Tuukka Rask” club. But in a snap decision, Kane was a worthy choice. Given how everything concluded in such a flash on Monday night, it was hard to separate the value from the madness anyway.