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Ovechkin praises Oates after claiming Hart Trophy

by Brian Hunter

Alex Ovechkin was sharing the love with everyone in the Washington Capitals organization during a Sunday morning conference call in the wake of Saturday night's announcement he had won the third Hart Trophy of his illustrious career.

While he made sure to give credit to his teammates, general manager George McPhee and the Washington training staff, there was one person Ovechkin kept coming back to when handing out praise.

That was first-year Capitals coach Adam Oates, who made the decision to switch Ovechkin from his traditional position of left wing over to the right side, and in doing so perhaps rejuvenated the career of the four-time 50-goal scorer.

"I feel back on track, especially with him," Ovechkin said of Oates. "Last night I call him, he was almost the first person I called, after my family, of course, and then George. I call Adam and I say, 'Thank you very much.' I'm just happy because it means a lot to me."

Ovechkin scored 24 goals in his final 23 games to claim the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy as the NHL's top goal scorer and finished third in the League in points (56), first in power-play goals (16) and first in shots on goal (220).

Ovechkin's 32 goals in the shortened 48-game season matched his total in 79 games during the 2010-11 season with Bruce Boudreau behind the bench in Washington and were just six fewer than what he put up in 78 games during the 2011-12 campaign playing for Boudreau and Dale Hunter.

Still, both Ovechkin and the Capitals struggled for the first half of this past season, and the turnaround that led to Ovechkin winning the Hart and the Capitals finishing first in the Southeast Division might never have happened if he hadn't bought in to what Oates was selling him.

"I tell him I trust you and he said, 'Just listen to me and you're going to be OK.' So I listen to him and I'm OK," Ovechkin said, noting the switch over to right wing was still a difficult adjustment to make.

However, there was still a lack of complete fulfillment in Ovechkin's voice as he segued from talking about his individual award to the end of the season for his team, as the Capitals let a 3-2 series lead slip away and lost in seven games to the New York Rangers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I just want to be in the position to play hockey," he said. "I look at the series, I just want to be there right now to play for the Stanley Cup. I think I win this one (MVP), but I lose the Stanley Cup, so the situation it can be different -- sometimes you win, sometimes you lose."

Ovechkin played the end of the Rangers series and a game for Russia in the World Championship with a hairline fracture in his left foot -- an injury he said he wasn't even aware of until after the Worlds, not that it made any difference.

"I just play the game because it's the playoffs; you have to do that and play the best that you can," Ovechkin said. "I come back to Russia, my national team, and an MRI shows I have a broken foot. I was feeling like it was OK and I can still play hockey. If you're playing for the Stanley Cup, you're just going to play. You can see right now how many players from L.A. and Detroit are getting surgery now because they were playing with injuries."

The prognosis heading into next season looks good.

"The foot is OK, looking fine," Ovechkin said. "I'm going to start playing tennis soon, so I'm going to be in good shape."

And while Ovechkin wasn't interested in speculating if a season under his belt at right wing might lead to him reaching the 50-goal stratosphere again, going as far as to say a return to the left side might not be out of the question if he or the team encountered another rough stretch, he did make clear how pleased he was to regain his MVP-caliber form.

"It means a lot," he said. "Like I said on Twitter, thanks to everybody: my teammates, my coaching staff, my family. It's a big pleasure for me to have this award, and it means a lot."

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