- The Washington Times - Friday, February 20, 2009

In the past two decades, one player has won the Hart Memorial Trophy, awarded to the NHL‘s MVP, in back-to-back seasons.

With seven weeks left in the regular season, Alex Ovechkin appears to be the runaway favorite to collect his second straight MVP award. The three-time All-Star leads the NHL with 42 goals and is tops in other critical categories while helping his Washington Capitals to one of the best records in the league.

“I think it is possible the way he is playing and the way our team is going. He’s been very heroic,” said Caps center Sergei Fedorov, the 1994 MVP. “What can I say? He scores very important goals at very important times, and he has been outstanding.”

Added Ovechkin: “If I win MVP, I will enjoy it because I want to win everything, but right now I want to win a Stanley Cup. It is going to be hard, but I think it is going to be very interesting.”

This season did not begin the way Ovechkin intended. One year after leading the league with 65 goals and 112 points, he had only two goals in this season’s first month.

As the league prepared for the holiday break in late December, Ovechkin had yet to push his name to the front of the MVP discussion. His team’s last game before the break and first one after changed that.

First, he carried his team back from a 4-0 deficit to a 5-4 win with two goals and an assist at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers. Then he scored (at the time) his greatest goal since the famous one from his rookie year at Phoenix - an end-to-end dash against Buffalo in which he beat three guys and scored as he fell to his stomach.

Toss in a pair of goals the next game at Toronto, and Ovechkin’s campaign for back-to-back Hart Trophies was in full gear and hasn’t slowed since.

“It would be pretty hard to go against him, I think,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We’ve got a pretty good team, and we’ve got a lot of good guys around, but he’s a dominant factor. More importantly, and I know it is only February, but if you look at what he’s done in the third period and with the winning goals and in crunch time - that’s when you need guys the most, and he’s always there.”

Ovechkin boasts a comfortable lead in goals, and his 20 in the third period were seven more than any other player had through Wednesday. He was also tied with San Jose’s Patrick Marleau for the most game-winning goals in the NHL with nine.

He added another signature moment to his resume Wednesday night. Ovechkin’s backhand pass to himself off the boards/spin move/scoring while on his side instantly became, like the tally in December against Buffalo, a goal-of-the-year candidate.

“He’s the best player in the world,” said Pierre McGuire, an analyst who covered Wednesday’s game for Canadian network TSN and will call Washington’s game Sunday against Pittsburgh for NBC. “Alex just obliterates whoever plays against him. He can take over a game with raw emotion. You have to go all the way back to [Maurice] ‘Rocket’ Richard to find a player like him.”

Only nine players in NHL history have won MVP honors in consecutive seasons, and only Dominik Hasek has done it since Wayne Gretzky’s prime in the 1980s. If Ovechkin wins another Hart this summer, next season will be even more intriguing.

The Hart Trophy has been awarded 83 times, but only two players in league history have captured it three consecutive years - Boston’s Bobby Orr from 1970 to 1972 and Gretzky, who earned eight straight from 1980 to 1987 with Edmonton.

“[Winning eight straight] would be pretty tough in this day and age,” Boudreau said. “You’ve got to stay healthy for eight straight years, and that’s got to be pretty tough for guys who play the way Alex does.

“I hope he gets two in a row, and then he can work on the Conn Smythe [Trophy as playoff MVP].”

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