By Allan Muir, SI.com
The Conn Smythe Trophy has been handed out to the postseason's MVP 42 times since Jean Beliveau first captured the honor in 1965. Never once in that span has the award been shared by two equally deserving teammates.
The way things are going this spring, the 43rd time might be the charm.
Zetterberg or Datsyuk. Crosby or Malkin. Assuming the Red Wings and Penguins clash for the Cup -- and with full deference to the faithful in Dallas and Philadelphia, it is strictly an assumption -- it's hard to imagine picking one teammate from the winning side over the other.
The success of both teams, to this point anyway, has been defined by 20 men pulling their weight. But for the voters, it'll be impossible to ignore the fearsome twosomes that front the top two offenses of the playoffs.
A lot can change over the course of the Finals, but here's the way I see the frontrunners heading down the home stretch:
Henrik Zetterberg: If the NHL can't figure out a way to slip the 27-year-old center into their promotional rotation alongside golden boys Crosby and Ovechkin, they're missing a Swede opportunity. What an epic, star-making performance this has been. Putting aside the potential for bias, netminder Chris Osgood is right on the money when he calls Zetterberg "the most complete player in the league." He's epitomized the best of two-way play, leading his team in scoring (9-9-18), shots (70) and plus/minus (plus-13). He's not just consistent (he brings an eight-game scoring streak to tonight's contest), he's scoring the big goals -- like Monday's third-period shorthander that knocked the wind out of the Stars. He's also been Detroit's best checker, helping to quiet the Stars; once-formidable top line. If he keeps up this pace and the Wings capture the Cup, he's the top Conn-tender.
Sidney Crosby: He's only recently established himself as a slightly better candidate than teammate Malkin with a pair of classic Crosby efforts that helped his Penguins put the deathlock on the Flyers. The Kid's racking up the points -- a league-leading 19 through Tuesday night's action -- but it's been his ability to create a seemingly endless stream of opportunities for his linemates that have defined his success. People are talking about how Marian Hossa has shed the stigma of being a playoff flop, but it's no coincidence that he's finally putting it together now that Sid is feeding him the biscuit.
Pavel Datsyuk: As good as Zetterberg has been, his level has been only a smidge higher than linemate Datsyuk, who is every bit as effective a checker and has nearly matched his center point for point. But Datsyuk been the more dynamic offensive force, gliding through defenders with a combination of speed and creativity that's often jaw-dropping. He's also saved his best work for the road, a place where the game is supposed to be tougher. All eight of his postseason goals have come while wearing the white sweater.
Evgeni Malkin: He's unlikely to capture the regular season MVP award for which he's a finalist, but Malkin still has a shot at the grand prize. It's telling that the Flyers have focused on shutting him down, rather than Crosby, over the past two games. It's also no surprise. Left unchecked, even for a moment, Malkin's using his size and vision to wreak havoc down low. Given the craftiness of the Red Wings defense, that quality makes him better suited for success in the Cup final. In fact, it's his willingness to shoot the puck that may end up giving him the edge if the Pens capture the mug. Helpers are nice, but no one remembers who dished the Cup-winning assist.
Marc-Andre Fleury: Despite the dazzling numbers -- 1.74 GAA, .937 save percentage and 11 wins -- Fleury hasn't had to be the difference-maker for the Penguins...yet. That'll change should they advance to the final and face Detroit's NHL-best offense. He's likely to face a jump in both shots (the Wings average nearly 37 per game) and quality scoring chances. He'll also have to battle through the gridlock that's likely to develop in his crease, and fight the urge to wander that has left him vulnerable in earlier games. For the Pens to capture the Cup, he'll have to perform at an MVP level.
Johan Franzen: His mule train to the Smythe likely was derailed with the injury that has cost him two games and counting in the Western Conference Finals. Still, if he returns in time for the Cup final -- still a possibility -- and gets back on that goal-a-game pace, he'll be back in the mix...especially if he adds to that league-leading total of five game-winners.
Allan Muir is the senior editor of Beckett Hockey magazine and serves as the NHL's official scorer for Dallas Stars home games.