Alex Ovechkin took off his equipment after the Washington Capitals’ final regular-season game and quietly accepted congratulations on his achievement. He asked how Steven Stamkos did in his last game, knowing full well that the NHL goal-scoring title was his as long as the Tampa Bay Lightning center didn’t record a hat trick.
He didn’t, and Ovechkin earned his third career Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy by finishing with 32 goals.
“It feels great,” the captain said. “I didn’t win personal awards a couple years in a row, so it’s nice to come back. Big thanks for the coaching staff and all my team. They give me this kind of opportunity.”
Ovechkin scored 22 goals in his final 21 games to go from out of the picture to the top of the charts. Adam Oates’ decision to switch Ovechkin from left to right wing played a major role, though the Caps’ rookie coach did not want to take any personal pride in his star’s accomplishment.
“None. None,” Oates said. “I’m happy for him. I thought about it a little bit more, one of the reasons I think he should win the Hart is because his unselfishness to change positions for the club. That he was willing to listen to a coaching staff and switch. I’m glad for him he’s had success and he’s helped our team grow.”
Ovechkin had two assists in the Caps’ overtime victory against the Boston Bruins to finish with 56 points, tied with Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby. Crosby only played 36 games because of a broken jaw.
Oates, while conceding bias, has endorsed Ovechkin for league MVP honors. Ovechkin, when asked if he cared, said Saturday morning: “Well to be honest with you guys it’s not my choice. If I’m gonna be nominated, I’m gonna be nominated. If not, if somebody else gonna be, it’s lots of great players out there who deserve it, too.”
Chicago Blackhawks forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, New York Islanders forward John Tavares and Crosby appear to be the other candidates. But after putting up 23 goals and 13 assists in a scorching final 23 games, there’s no doubt Ovechkin is in the Hart Trophy conversation.
Ovechkin has already won the Hart twice and this is his third Richard. He’s the first player to capture the goal-scoring award three times since it came into existence 13 years ago.
But Ovechkin doesn’t have any concern about having enough room in the trophy case.
“Yeah, I just moved into a new house,” he said, “so there’s lots of room there.”