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Round 2
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Stanley Cup Final

Trophy Tracker: Malkin has healthy lead in Hart race

Tuesday, 02.28.2012 / 1:00 PM / Trophy Tracker

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer


The NHL reached the three-quarter mark of its season this past weekend. Now, with the NHL Trade Deadline in the rear-view mirror, NHL.com looks at some of the biggest storylines -- and award winners -- that have developed across the first 900-plus games of the 1,230-game regular season.

The 2011-12 NHL season has come around the final turn and is heading down the stretch, meaning the race for the Hart Trophy is getting hotter by the day.

2011-12 NHL TROPHY TRACKER

The NHL reached the three-quarter mark of its season this past weekend. Now, with the NHL Trade Deadline in the rear-view mirror, NHL.com looks at some of the biggest storylines -- and award winners -- that have developed across the first 900-plus games of the 1,230-game regular season.
Philadelphia center Claude Giroux was NHL.com's MVP leader at the quarter-pole and halfway point of the season. He has technically stayed consistent enough to remain in the race now, but three other superstar players have stepped up enough to knock Giroux down a few pegs, even off the list of three top candidates.

Who are the Hart Trophy candidates and how do they rank? Well…

WINNER

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh -- You can call it Malkamania or Malkinmania (both have been trending on Twitter thanks to overwhelming support from Penguins' fans); either way Pittsburgh's hulking superstar center has been an absolute force since Sidney Crosby went out of the lineup in early December.

Malkin has quickly become the front-runner for the Hart Trophy as he has moved to the front of the Art Ross Trophy race as well. He entered the week with a League-best 78 points on 37 goals and 41 assists, including 28 goals and 26 assists for 54 points in the 34 games since Crosby left the lineup.

Malkin has 13 multi-point games since Dec. 8, including three five-point games and three hat tricks. He has been held without a point in only six of the past 34 games. He entered the week on a five-game scoring streak with five goals and four assists.

Not coincidentally, the Penguins have remained a beast in the East since Crosby left the lineup as they are 20-13-1 during the past 34 games, and that includes a six-game losing streak from Dec. 29 to Jan. 11. Malkin, by the way, had only two goals and one assist during that six-game slide. The Penguins have won 15 of their 20 games since (15-4-1) and Malkin has contributed 20 goals and 13 assists in those games.

Beyond offense, Malkin has improved his percentage in the faceoff circle, which, of course, enables him to keep the puck and create more scoring chances. He's capitalizing on a lot of them.

RUNNER-UPS

Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers -- Forget that goaltenders have their own award; Lundqvist has played his way into the Hart Trophy race as he has backstopped the Rangers to what is, as of now, a landslide lead in the Eastern Conference standings.

Lundqvist recently recorded his eighth shutout of the season and his 30th win. That gives him 30 or more wins in all seven of his NHL seasons. He is 30-12-4 in 46 appearances this season and he's posted a .940 save percentage and 1.75 goals-against average.

Evgeni Malkin
Center - PIT
GOALS: 37 | ASST: 41 | PTS: 78
SOG: 254 | +/-: 11
To understand how impressive this is, see where Lundqvist ranks among goaltenders in the four most important categories: After Monday's 2-0 shutout of the Devils, he was second in GAA, first in save percentage, fourth in wins and first in shutouts. Even more impressive, he's only No. 13 in appearances and games started.

The Rangers wouldn't be running away with the top seed in the Eastern Conference if not for Lundqvist's brilliance.

Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay -- The Lightning have struggled with their defense and goaltending all season, but they're still somewhat in the Stanley Cup Playoff race at this late date because Stamkos has been carrying them.

Stamkos is starting to run away from the pack for the Rocket Richard Trophy as he had 43 goals entering Tuesday's game against Montreal. Malkin was second with 37. Stamkos is second behind Malkin in the Art Ross Trophy race with 75 points.

The Lightning may fall short this season, but Stamkos is not the reason why. He's on pace for a career-best 56 goals and 98 points. He is also third in the NHL with nine game-winning goals.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

For me, it's a great win for our hockey team and for a lot of people back in Columbus, especially our fans in particular … people who have been devoted to this organization, it's big.

— Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards on their win vs. the Penguins in Game 2, the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup Playoff victory