With the Stanley Cup Finals getting underway tonight between the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks, I wanted to take a look at two American born players that play vital roles for their respective clubs. Michigan natives, Ryan Kesler (VAN) and Tim Thomas (BOS), have been the backbones for their teams during the long road to the Finals. And deservedly so, they are both leading candidates for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the 2011 playoff MVP. Adding to several other storylines, these two opposing players were also teammates on the Silver Medal winning Team USA during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. However, starting tonight in Vancouver, the two will begin the last stretch to hoist the Cup and are sure to see a lot of each other in a different light. You can count on Kesler going hard to the net and causing havoc with his speed and quick release, while Thomas is a guarantee to make more than one jaw-dropping save in this series.
Ryan Kesler (Livonia, MI) has been an absolute super mutant in many instances during these playoffs. In the Canucks series verse the Predators, there was no better player on the ice at any point than Kesler. He was involved in 11 of the 14 goals the Canucks scored in that series and he played a huge role in shutting down whatever offense the Predators could muster in those 6 games. Kesler is currently fourth with 18 points in the NHL playoffs and is tied for fourth with 7 goals. His first round performance verse the Blackhawks didn’t bring much in terms of offense, but he was key in shutting down the Hawks’ All-Star center Jonathan Toews. He also showed some toughness by coming back from what looked like an apparent leg injury in Game 5 verse the Sharks to score the game tying goal with 14 seconds left in the game, in an eventual Canucks’ double OT victory. Those in the media have mentioned on many occasions, that Kesler is the current favorite for the Conn Smythe (MVP) heading into the final round.
Tim Thomas (Flint, MI) has solid numbers (2.29 GAA, .929 SV%) after 18 games coming into the Finals and possibly the save of the year on Steve Downie (TBL) last round. Thomas has had a few games in the playoffs where he has allowed 4 or more goals along with a couple of weak early game goals. However, he does have two Game 7 wins and two shutouts, one of those shutouts coming in a series clinching Game 7 win over the Lightning. Thomas has been resilient and has bounced back tremendously after sub par performances during these playoffs and without him the Bruins wouldn’t have made it out of the first round. In the four game series sweep over the Flyers, Thomas allowed only 7 goals in 4 games making 142 saves in the process against that offensively dynamic club. Tim Thomas is a feel good story in the NHL and adored by most of his peers, media and fans. In addition, he’ll likely be taking home his second Vezina Trophy, as best goaltender, at the NHL Awards ceremony at the conclusion of this season.
Whatever the series outcome, it should be a terrific Cup Final for the fans of this sport. But it would be nice to see one of these gentlemen skate away with a little something extra, in the form of the Conn Smythe. If one of them does so, he would only be the second American born player ever to win that award. N.Y. Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch was the other in 1994. Odds are one of them will.