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Hart honor nice, but Ovechkin focused on winning

by Ben Raby

ARLINGTON, Va. -- When the Washington Capitals were faced with a 10-point deficit in the Southeast Division standings in mid-March and were in danger of missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in six years, Alex Ovechkin turned his season around.

Beginning March 14, Ovechkin had a League-high 23 goals and 36 points in the final 23 games of the regular season as the Capitals went 17-4-2 to clinch the division title.

Ovechkin's efforts were recognized Friday when he was named one of three finalists for the Hart Trophy, awarded annually to the "player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team." Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and John Tavares of the New York Islanders are the other finalists.

"It's nice and I'm sure I'm going to have time to celebrate later, but right now it's all about business and focus on the game," Ovechkin said as the Capitals prepared Friday for Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the New York Rangers (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS2).

"It's big. It means like I'm still [a factor]," he said of his fourth career Hart Trophy nomination, his first since 2009-10. "It was a hard year, it was hard season for all of us, and I'm happy to be in that kind of position."

Ovechkin won the Rocket Richard Trophy this season after leading the NHL with 32 goals, including a League-high 16 power-play goals. He's also a finalist for the Ted Lindsay Award, given to League's most outstanding player, as voted by other players.

In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, though, Ovechkin's offensive numbers have dropped and the Capitals captain enters Game 5 against the Rangers having gone three straight games without a goal for the first time since March 9-12. The series is even at two games apiece.

"I just want to win," he said. "It doesn't matter if I'm going to score or not. Playoffs, it's not about the scoring or the beautiful play. It's all about the winning. Of course I want to score and I want to win when I'm scoring, but right now [the] most important thing is to win."

Ovechkin said Thursday he and linemates Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson need to do a better job of getting pucks through the shooting lanes and creating space.

The trio combined for four shots on goal in the Capitals' 4-3 loss in Game 4 in New York on Wednesday and had seven shots blocked and five others miss the net altogether.

"I think overall we just got to work a little better, especially together we've got to forecheck a little better, get the puck deep, I think," said Backstrom, who has a goal and an assist in the series. "I think we're going to get chances if we get the puck deep. That's something we talked about, that we haven't been able to get the puck there. It's been a lot of back and forth when we're on the ice; we've got to make sure we're better with the puck and better control it."

The Capitals' No. 1 line has seen plenty of New York's top defense pairing of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi throughout the series, but Capitals coach Adam Oates does have the advantage of making the last line change as the series returns to Verizon Center for Game 5.

"I think often we play against top lines and top defensemen," Johansson said, "but I don't think we focus on that too much. We just need to go out and do our thing, and I think we've been doing that. Now we've just got to find a way to put the puck in the net because we have the chances. We've got to find a way to finish it."

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