Three Capitals, including Alex Ovechkin, up for major NHL awards

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 23, 2010; D03

LAS VEGAS -- Although their stunning first-round playoff exit remains fresh in their minds two months later, three Washington Capitals are hoping to salve some of that lingering sting on the Las Vegas strip Wednesday night.

Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green and José Theodore can take home the Hart, Norris and Bill Masterton Memorial trophies, respectively, when this year's winners are revealed at the NHL's annual awards show at The Palms Casino & Resort.

Ovechkin can capture his third consecutive MVP award, and in the process, join Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr as the only players to accomplish the triple. Ovechkin missed 10 games because of injury and suspension, and left four others early, but the 24-year-old still managed to amass 50 goals and 59 assists while averaging a league-leading 1.51 points per game.

But Ovechkin's competition for the game's most prestigious award is fierce. Pittsburgh center Sidney Crosby tied for the league lead in goals with 51, a 65 percent increase from his previous season, and Vancouver's Henrik Sedin led all scorers with 29 goals and 112 points.

"Of course I want to win," the Capitals' captain said. "We all want to win; it's [an] important thing for us. All three nominees have a good chance to win it, but no one is going to know until the [presenter] is going to say, 'And the winner is.' "

Ovechkin can also claim the NHL players' association's most outstanding player honor, the Ted Lindsay Award, for a third year in a row. (It had been previously known as the Lester B. Pearson Award.) And if the left wing is named a first team all-star, he'll become the first player in league history to achieve that distinction in each of his first five seasons.

Asked which one would mean more to him, Ovechkin cracked a gap-toothed smile and said, "I'll take both."

Winning one, or both, would provide one more twist in what's been the most difficult season of Ovechkin's stellar career, a campaign stained by injury, two suspensions, fan and media scorn as well as heartbreaking disappointments in the Olympics, the NHL postseason and world championships.

"It was a season with lots of good memories," he said before conceding softly, "but lots of disappointing moments, too."

Ovechkin still is confounded by the abrupt end to the Capitals' season. He said he doesn't believe an overhaul is needed but added he wouldn't be surprised if General Manager George McPhee made a significant move, either, as the draft and free agency approach.

"You see Montreal traded [goaltender Jaroslav] Halak for two guys from the minors," Ovechkin said. "So I don't know what is going to happen."

Green, meantime, is aiming to become to the second Capitals defenseman to capture the Norris and join Rod Langway, who won it back-to-back in 1983-84. Green, the leading scorer among defensemen for the second straight season with 19 goals and 57 assists, was narrowly edged last June by Boston's Zdeno Chara.

Green's competition is Chicago's Duncan Keith and Los Angeles second-year player Drew Doughty, both of whom made the Canadian Olympic team while he was excluded.

"It would be unexpected," said Green, who is also a finalist for the Foundation Award for charitable contribution. "With the type of game I play, it's hard. But if I do win it, I will be humbled and honored."

One thing Ovechkin and Green have working in their favor: Balloting was conducted by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association prior to Washington's stunning quarterfinal ouster, a seven-game loss to the underdog Canadiens. Ovechkin was held without a goal in Games 6 and 7 as the Capitals coughed up a three-games-to-one series lead, while Green did not score at all.

Green took the humbling defeat -- and the biting criticism of his performance -- hard. In the eight weeks since, he's come to the same conclusion as Ovechkin -- the answer lies within the Capitals' dressing room.

"It's really up to us guys now," Green said. "I don't think there's any [coaching] or any certain [new] player that's going to change our team. We just need to make sure that the guys we have understand that the game changes in the playoffs and we have to step up. It starts with our leadership, our key guys that have been there. We need to take charge of the situation and make sure that we produce."

When next season begins, it's possible Theodore might not be counted among those "key guys." After being replaced in the playoffs for the second straight spring, Theodore could become an unrestricted free agent in July. His agent, Don Meehan, said recently that his client has not received an offer from the Capitals.

Either way, Theodore already has plenty of conflicted feelings as he vies for the Masterton, which is awarded annually for perseverance and dedication to the game. The veteran goalie lost his infant son, Chace, to complications stemming from a premature birth last summer, and after struggling in mid-November to come to terms with his loss, put together his best regular season since 2003-04.

He stayed away from the media session at The Palms on Tuesday, which would have been his son's first birthday.

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