- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 30, 2009

It was a day of rest Wednesday for the Washington Capitals as they, along with the rest of hockey, brace for the forthcoming battle with the rival Pittsburgh Penguins.

If the star power of the series already weren’t enough in evidence, Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin were named two of the three finalists for the Hart Trophy during the off-day for both clubs.

“We’re happy to be participating in it,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said of the pending series. “It will be great for hockey and great for TV, too.”

Added Penguins coach Dan Bylsma: “It’s an absolute treat. … It’s a great thing for the game. … It’s great for the sound bites. It’s great for the advertisers. It’s just great for the game, and the hockey will be fantastic.”

Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk is the other finalist for the award, given to the league’s MVP as voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association. This marks the first time all three finalists have been from Russia, and the winner will be the third Russian to take the award. The Caps’ Sergei Fedorov won in 1994 when he was with the Red Wings, and Ovechkin won last season.

Ovechkin and Malkin finished first and second in the league in points each of the past two seasons. Last year, Ovechkin led the league with 65 goals and 112 points and earned both the Hart and the Pearson Award, given to the league’s most outstanding player. Malkin was the runner-up for both trophies and in the scoring race with 106 points.

Ovechkin led the league in goals again this season with 56 - 10 more than any other player. Malkin won the scoring race with 113 points - three more than Ovechkin.

Datsyuk finished fourth with 97 points and is a finalist for the Selke Trophy, awarded to the best defensive forward. He won the award for the first time last season.

Ovechkin would become only the 10th player in NHL history to win the Hart in back-to-back seasons. The last player to do so was Buffalo goalie Dominik Hasek in 1997 and 1998.

“He’s such a dynamic skater and dynamic one-on-one with the offense that you see,” Bylsma said. “[He] has the ability to change momentum for [his] team, physically. It’s a unique dynamic.”

This series not only includes two-thirds of this year’s Hart Trophy nominees but the past two winners of the award as well.

Sidney Crosby won the Hart in 2007, the second year in the league for both Crosby and Ovechkin. Crosby finished this season third in scoring with 103 points.

Washington won the first three meetings between the two teams this season, reversing a one-sided rivalry during the first three years of the Ovechkin-Crosby era. Pittsburgh won the final game of the series March 8 in a shootout, the only contest between the teams after the Penguins replaced Michel Therrien with Bylsma as coach and added forwards Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz at the trade deadline.

“They’re a much different team, as was New York. It is going to be tough. There’s no doubt,” Boudreau said. “They’re the defending Eastern Conference champions. They played for the Stanley Cup. They know what it is all about.”

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