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NHL hands out some early hardware

by John Kreiser

Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin became only the second player to earn both the Art Ross Trophy and the Rockey Richard Trophy in a single season.
PITTSBURGH -- Alex Ovechkin's great season ended too soon, with Washington's overtime loss to Philadelphia in Game 7 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. On Wednesday, he went home with a couple of pretty good consolation prizes.

The NHL regular-season leader with 65 goals and 112 points became only the second player to earn both the Art Ross Trophy, awarded since 1947 to the player with the most points, and the Rocket Richard Trophy, which has been awarded since 1999 to the regular-season goal-scoring leader.

"It was a great year for me," said Ovechkin, who also won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie in 2005-06. "But it wasn't my best year. To win the Stanley Cup – that will be my best year. The biggest Cup is not in my hands."

The NHL also honored Detroit goaltenders Dominik Hasek and Chris Osgood as winners of the William M. Jennings Trophy, awarded to goalkeepers who play more than 25 games for the team that allows the fewest regular-season goals, and Toronto center and captain Mats Sundin as winner of the Mark Messier Leadership Award for his leadership abilities on and off the ice. In addition, Vancouver center Trevor Linden and Tampa Bay center Vincent Lecavalier shared the 10th annual NHL Foundation Player Award for applying hockey's core values to enrich their communities.

Ovechkin's 65 goals were the most since Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux scored 69 in 1995-96 and the most ever by a Washington player. He was at his best down the stretch, scoring seven goals as the Caps won their last seven games to win the Southeast Division after being next-to-last in the Eastern Conference at the season's midway point.

"It's not about me," he said. "It's all about my team."

Red Wings' General Manager Ken Holland, filling in for his goaltenders as they rested before Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final Wednesday night, said the Jennings Trophy was also about teamwork.

"They were key reasons why we had the regular season we did and why we're in the Stanley Cup Final," he said of his two veteran goaltenders, who were honored because the Red Wings allowed a League-low 184 goals.

The two split the goaltending load almost evenly. Osgood posted an NHL-best 2.09 goals-against average and a 27-9-4 record in 43 appearances; Hasek had a 2.14 GAA, and a 27-10-3 record in 41 games.

Hasek started and won the Wings' first two games in this year's playoffs, but lost Game 3 and was blitzed for three goals early in Game 4 against Nashville. Osgood replaced him and has won 12 of 14 decisions with a 1.38 goals-against average.

Holland said the Wings have confidence in both, and that each is perfectly suited to play for a team like Detroit.

"We won the Cup in 2002 with Dom and with Chris in 1998, so both have tremendous experience," he said. "They were a big reason why we led the League in goals against.

"They come up with the big save. Our team doesn't give up a lot of shots, but it's demoralizing when you carry the play and all of a sudden the other team gets a good scoring chance and the puck goes in the net. They've got the mental strength that all of a sudden, when the other team gets a scoring chance, they can make the save and you can continue to have the momentum."

Sundin became the first player in Leafs history to reach the 400-goal mark and is 13 points from becoming the first to score 1,000 points as a Leaf. Toronto's longtime captain had 32 goals and 78 points in 74 games. He's been the team captain since the start of the 1997-98 season, and opted to stay in Toronto and try to help the Leafs make the playoffs rather than be traded to a Cup contender at the trade deadline .

"The truest test of leadership comes during periods of adversity," Messier said. "When presented with difficult times during the season, Mats Sundin remained committed to his teammates, his community and to the game of hockey."

Sundin, whose leadership on the Leafs includes his considerable off-ice charitable work, said the season "definitely was a challenging year for the whole team and the organization. Toronto deserves a team that is competitive and is among the top teams in the League."

But Sundin declined to reveal his plans for next season, saying the biggest decision "is that I'm physically and mentally ready to train for another season."

Linden is also uncertain if he'll be back for another season. He played more than 16 of his 20 NHL seasons with the Canucks and was honored with standing ovations at Vancouver's home finale in April.

This award had nothing to do with his considerable on-ice achievements, and everything to do with his remarkable off-ice charitable work, especially with children. He's helped raise $25 million.

It was a great year for me, but it wasn't my best year. To win the Stanley Cup-that will be my best year. - Alex Ovechkin
But the 22-year-old said his big season and the surge that carried the Caps into the playoffs was a group effort.

"It doesn't take much to figure out how fortunate I've been, and we all are, to have our health," the Canucks' all-time scoring leader said. "I've always thought that to make a difference in someone's life is worth the time it takes."

Lecavalier, Tampa Bay's captain and last year's Richard Trophy winner, is making a difference to kids in his adopted hometown. Last October, he announced a $3 million commitment to building a state-of-the-art facility at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla., that will be named the Vincent Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. It's scheduled to open next year.

"I'm excited," said Lecavalier, who led the Lightning to the 2004 Stanley Cup. "I met most of the doctors over there, and the directors and what they want to do. I'm happy to be part of that and have my little bit of input on what they are doing."

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