Washington Capitals Left Wing Alex Ovechkin Is Nominated for Hart Memorial Trophy After Winning the Honor Last Year

Wilbon and Kornheiser talk about a dream matchup other than their own: Ovechkin vs. Crosby in the NHL playoffs, as well as foreign players and other hockey matters.Video by Atkinson & Co.
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 30, 2009

While the Washington Capitals enjoyed a day away from the rink yesterday to savor their come-from-behind series victory over the New York Rangers, their best player was given another reason to celebrate.

Alex Ovechkin was nominated for the Hart Memorial Trophy, one year after winning the NHL's top individual honor for the first time. The other nominees are Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings. This is the first time in history that all three Hart finalists are Russians.

Although the votes have already been cast by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, yesterday's nomination will add another layer of intrigue to a highly anticipated playoff matchup when Ovechkin's Capitals meet Malkin's Penguins in the Eastern Conference semifinals, starting Saturday at Verizon Center.

In addition to the well-publicized personal rivalries between Ovechkin and Malkin -- and Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, and Alexander Semin and Crosby -- there's also the matter of the lopsided playoff history between the clubs. The Capitals went 3-0-1 against the Penguins this past regular season, but Pittsburgh has broken more hearts in Washington than any other opponent, having won six of the teams' seven all-time postseason meetings.

Malkin, Ovechkin and Crosby finished 1-2-3 in the race for the scoring title with 113, 110 and 103 points, respectively.

"It means a lot to me to be up for this award," Ovechkin said in a statement. "I always want to be the best, so this is a great honor. It's special, too, with three Russians nominated. It is a great thing for our country and our sport."

Ovechkin is aiming to become the first player to win back-to-back MVPs since goaltender Dominik Hasek captured the award in 1997 and 1998 as a member of the Buffalo Sabres. No forward, however, has claimed the honor in consecutive seasons since Wayne Gretzky won eight straight MVPs from 1980 to 1987.

The winner will be announced June 18 in Las Vegas, where Ovechkin will be joined by teammate Mike Green, who was nominated last week for the Norris Trophy, given to the top defenseman.

Ovechkin didn't have the historic season he had a year ago, when he became the first player in a dozen years to eclipse the 60-goal plateau. But his impact on the Capitals was not any less significant.

The ebullient 23-year-old led the league in goals with 56, goals at even strength with 36, points per game at 1.39, shots on goal with 528 and points on the power play with 46. He also joined Gretzky and Mario Lemieux as the only players to notch 200 goals and 200 assists in their first four seasons.

Ovechkin's season wasn't all about numbers, though.

He added highlight-reel goals to a résumé teeming with jaw-dropping gems, including arguably the goal of the year on Feb. 18 against Montreal, when he passed the puck to himself off of the side boards, made a spin move on a Canadiens defenseman and then deposited the puck in the net from his hip while sliding on his side. Ovechkin also created a firestorm of controversy when he commemorated his 50th goal in Tampa Bay with a "hot stick" celebration near the Lightning net.

But Ovechkin faces stiff competition from Malkin and Datsyuk.

Drafted No. 2 overall behind Ovechkin in 2004, Malkin not only led the league in points but in assists with 78. He can play center and right wing, emerged as a leader in the dressing room and was the Penguins' best player in the first half of the season as Crosby struggled early. Malkin also had 94 takeaways.

Datsyuk, meantime, is arguably the league's best two-way forward. On a team replete with star veterans, the 30-year-old finished fourth in the league in points with 97 (32 goals, 65 assists). Datsyuk is also up for the Selke Trophy as the top defensive forward and the Lady Byng Trophy, awarded to the player who best combines performance and sportsmanship. He had only 22 penalty minutes in 81 games.

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