By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 13, 2008
TORONTO, June 12 -- When Alex Ovechkin accepted the Lester B. Pearson Award, given to the most outstanding player as voted by his peers, the Washington Capitals' left wing apologized to the crowd for stumbling during his acceptance speech.
He said, "Sorry, I'm nervous," before smiling, tugging at his lapel and taking a deep breath. But as it turned out, there was no reason for Ovechkin's nerves to be frayed Thursday night at the NHL Awards Show. He later captured the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP -- in a landslide.
Ovechkin is the first Capital to win either award, beating out Calgary's Jarome Iginla and Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin for both honors. Ovechkin also became the first player to win the Hart and Pearson awards along with the Art Ross and Maurice "Rocket" Richard trophies, given for leading the league with 112 points and 65 goals, respectively.
"I wanted to win everything," Ovechkin said. "Maybe next year the Stanley Cup."
Ovechkin was the biggest story of the night at the Elgin Theatre, but the best tale belonged to Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau, who won the Jack Adams Award as the top coach after being promoted from the minor leagues Nov. 22 and leading Washington from last place to the franchise's first playoff berth in five years.
Boudreau, 53, edged Montreal's Guy Carbonneau, who guided the Canadiens to the best regular season record in the Eastern Conference, and Detroit's Mike Babcock, whose Red Wings won the Presidents' Trophy and the Stanley Cup.
"The one thing I want to do is enjoy and remember this," Boudreau said. "Because a lot of times, it happens right off the bat so people think, 'Oh, this is going to happen every year,' and then they never get another chance again. You may never get here again."
If Boudreau was nervous before the show, he didn't let on. He didn't even prepare a speech in case he won.
"You want to take a picture to show that you were here -- and because no one ever has seen me in a tux," he cracked. "I would have picked the guy who won the Stanley Cup. I'm glad I didn't have a vote."
Boudreau's admiration for Babcock was mutual. Babcock even noted that he sees many similarities between the brand of hockey they employ.
"For those who know him, we're not surprised by his success," Babcock said. "I like him because he's real. He is what he is, and he does what he does. We both like to play our game with our foot on the gas. We want to let our players play and have fun and we'll deal with the mistakes. We don't want to be cautious; we want to play the game.
"Bruce has come to the right team at the right time."
The only disappointment for the Capitals was that Nicklas Backstrom did not win the Calder Trophy as the top rookie, leaving the team one award short of becoming the first to win player, coach and rookie of the year. Backstrom, who was named to the all-rookie team, was runner-up to Chicago's Patrick Kane.
"I didn't have a shred of doubt about Alex," Capitals majority owner Ted Leonsis said. "When he was up for rookie of the year [three years ago], I was on the edge of my seat. Bruce was the one I thought wouldn't get an award. Sometimes there isn't justice. But that one really made me fill up emotionally."
Leonsis not only rewarded Boudreau with a contract extension after the season for leading the Capitals on a surprising 37-17-7 run, he also bought his new coach a Rolex watch.
Ovechkin, though, stood out Thursday just as he had all season. He wore a Capitals-red tie and red vest under a black tuxedo with pointy patent leather shoes while most everyone else wore traditional black and white.
"I want to look sexy," he joked of his outfit.
Ovechkin was also named to the all-star first team for the third time in his first three seasons on Thursday. He's the first to accomplish that feat since Detroit goaltender Terry Sawchuk in 1950-53. The other first-team all-stars were Malkin and Iginla up front, Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom and Calgary's Dion Phaneuf on the blueline and San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov in goal.
"I think I'm the happiest 22-year-old guy on the planet," Ovechkin said. "I have everything."
Even before Thursday night this had been a memorable week for Ovechkin -- and it's not over yet.
On Friday afternoon, District Mayor Adrian M. Fenty will present Ovechkin with a key to the city during a fan ceremony on the steps of the John A. Wilson Building. Then Ovechkin will be honored by Leonsis at a private dinner at a posh downtown restaurant.
Ovechkin said he will return to Russia on Sunday and spend the majority of the summer in his homeland, though he plans to vacation in Turkey with teammate Alexander Semin and seven other associates before returning to Moscow to train with Dynamo of Russia's Continental Hockey League (formerly the Russian Super League).
Other winners of major awards included Lidstrom, who won his sixth Norris Trophy as the league's top defenseman in the past seven years, and New Jersey's Martin Brodeur, who claimed his fourth Vezina Trophy in five years as the best goaltender.