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Hart finalist Tavares still reeling from Islanders loss

by Brian Compton

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The pain of losing Game 7 against the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference First Round on Monday will haunt New York Islanders captain John Tavares throughout the offseason, but he will at least be rewarded with a trip to Las Vegas in June.

Tavares, who finished second in the NHL with 86 points (38 goals, 48 assists) in 82 games, on Wednesday was named a finalist for the Hart Trophy, which is awarded to "to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team." The trophy will be awarded on June 24.

But after removing his belongings from his locker at Nassau Coliseum for the last time (the Islanders are moving to Barclays Center in Brooklyn next season), Tavares admitted it's going to be hard to move on from the 2-1 loss at Washington in Game 7.

"It's really hard to think about right now just because obviously we're so fresh off the playoffs and with the way they finished," Tavares said at the Coliseum on Thursday. "It's obviously a great honor. Anytime you're up for the Hart Trophy in this League it's pretty special company. Just to be a nominee, it speaks volumes to our team and my teammates, coaching staff, the belief they have in me, and the amount of support I get from them and how well they played, how well my team played … both years I've been nominated (2012-13), both years we went to the playoffs and that's because everyone was contributing. We had a tough team to play against."

Tavares' teammates also are reeling from the series loss to the Capitals but were pleased to see their captain recognized for his efforts. Tavares is up against Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price and Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin for the Hart.

"He's very deserving," right wing Kyle Okposo said. "He played well all year and he's one of the best players in the League. He had a hell of a year. I couldn't be happier for him to get that nomination."

Forward Ryan Strome, who trains with Tavares during the offseason and shares a close friendship, completed his first full season in the NHL and spent time on Tavares' line. Strome was the Islanders' third-leading scorer with 50 points (17 goals, 33 assists) in 81 games.

"I'm obviously really happy for him," said Strome, who found out by overhearing Tavares' telephone conversation with his parents. "He'd have my vote every day. I see how hard he works and how special he is and how much he means to this team. He does everything. A lot of the stuff that you guys might not see, he truly means a lot for us. I'm hoping he wins it and hoping I get to celebrate with him this summer."

Tavares had several linemates this season, mainly after Okposo was sidelined with an eye injury in January. But Tavares continued to produce offensively while helping some of his younger teammates mature at the NHL level.

"He had a tremendous year," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "He's gone through Matt Moulson, he's gone through PA Parenteau (former teammates) … no matter who's on that line he finds a way to get it done. He makes players around him better. He leads by example and he's only getting better as a leader too. He's still a young captain in this League. We talked a lot about that in our meetings with him and how we can make him a better captain. He's done a great job for us."

This is the second time Tavares has been nominated for the Hart Trophy (in 2013 when Ovechkin won the award). But for Tavares, his thoughts revolve around the fact that the Islanders, who won 47 games and had 101 points in the regular season, won't play another meaningful game until October.

"It stings. It's been a really hard last three days," Tavares said. "I think you carry this one forever really, obviously with what this season's meant with the building and everyone that's a part of this organization. It's tough, especially with the opportunity we had. We felt we had something really special with this group. Expectations are high and that won't change. The people here deserve more in the postseason.

"As fun as the year was and as special as it was, we didn't get to where we wanted to be."


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