By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 17, 2009 11:04 PM
LAS VEGAS, June 17 -- It's a good thing Alex Ovechkin is better at scoring goals than he is at playing Texas hold 'em.
The Washington Capitals star finished sixth in the NHL's charity shootout yesterday here at the Rio hotel and casino, competing on a table fashioned to look like a hockey rink against current and former players and a poker professional. But Ovechkin may redeem himself tonight at the NHL Awards Show, where he can claim something he cherishes far more than a stack of chips: a second Hart Memorial Trophy.
Ovechkin can become the NHL's first back-to-back MVP since Dominik Hasek captured the award in 1997 and 1998 as a member of the Buffalo Sabres, and the first forward to accomplish the feat since Wayne Gretzky's eight-year reign from 1980 to '87.
Moments before taking a seat at the poker table, Ovechkin said he has done a lot of thinking about hockey and the way the Capitals' season ended. None of his thoughts, however, were about the Stanley Cup finals. He didn't watch them. Too painful, he said.
"Why I have to watch it?" Ovechkin said moments before taking a seat at the poker table. "No, not one game. A guy just told me that Pittsburgh won [Game 7], 2-1."
"My reaction?" he added with shrug. "I was upset because I know we could be in that situation, too. You never know what was going to happen. We deserved better."
Asked how he feels knowing his biggest rivals -- Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin -- hoisted the Cup before he did, Ovechkin grimaced and said: "It's good for them. Congrats to them. But I want to be in the same position."
For now, Ovechkin will have to settle for the chance to cash in when this year's NHL award winners are announced during the annual gala at the Palms Hotel. Seated next to Ovechkin will be teammate Mike Green, whose record-breaking regular season helped him score his first nomination for the Norris Trophy, awarded to the league's top defenseman.
Ovechkin's competition for the Hart is Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk and Malkin. Datsyuk and Malkin were key contributors for the Stanley Cup finalists, but balloting was conducted by the membership of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association before the start of the playoffs.
The Hart Trophy will be presented by Sergei Fedorov, the first Russian to win the award in 1994 and Ovechkin's teammate for the past two seasons. This is the first time that all three nominees hail from Russia. Fedorov has not re-signed with the Capitals, but General Manager George McPhee said the two sides will continue to negotiate.
Ovechkin can also win his second straight Lester B. Pearson Award, the league's most valuable player as voted by his peers.
The past two days have been a blur for the bleary-eyed Ovechkin, who landed in Las Vegas following an 18-hour flight from Moscow in the wee hours Tuesday morning.
He's been on the go ever since.
Hours after arriving, the 23-year-old Russian was formally announced as the cover athlete for the NHL 2K10 video game in an event hosted by Caesar's Palace. During the unveiling, Ovechkin was outfitted in a high-tech spandex suit, which the videogame engineers used to capture Ovechkin's motions and mannerisms, including his controversial "hot stick" celebration for the game.
Yesterday, a jet-lagged and weary Ovechkin did a television interview and a photo shoot with his apparel company before joining a poker game with Eddie Olczyk, Jeremy Roenick and Mats Sundin, among others, at the Rio. Ovechkin ended up winning $2,000 for Most Valuable Kids, the charity Ovechkin partners with in Washington to purchase tickets to Capitals games for underprivileged children.
Apparently, Ovechkin plays poker the way he plays hockey -- all out, er, all in.