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Tavares joins Crosby, Ovechkin as Hart finalist

by Adam Kimelman

Now in his fourth NHL season, New York Islanders center John Tavares has entered the ranks of the elite players in the League.

Tavares on Friday joined Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin as finalists for the Hart Trophy, awarded annually to the "player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team."

"It's a tremendous honor for me," Tavares told ESPN on Friday. "Growing up, I always wanted to play in the NHL. A lot of people I looked up to and idolized were Hart Trophy nominees and some of the best players to ever play the game.

"It's special and there's a lot of people that helped me on my path to get here today. It truly is special, and a great honor, and very humbling to be recognized with those two great players."

Crosby, who won the Hart in 2007, finished tied for third in the League with 56 points despite sitting out the final month of the regular season with a broken jaw. He still managed to hold the lead in the League scoring race until the final week of the season, and his 1.56 points per game led the League. He had 15 goals and a career-best plus-26 rating. His strong play helped the Penguins win the Atlantic Division title for the first time since the 2007-08 season and earn the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

"It's definitely an honor any time you get nominated for an award, especially in a season when you're coming off some injuries," Crosby said. "It was a long couple years there with missing games, so it definitely feels good."

A win by Crosby would give the Penguins back-to-back Hart winners; last year's trophy went to Penguins center Evgeni Malkin.

Ovechkin, one of 11 players to win the Hart in consecutive years (2008-09), won the Rocket Richard Trophy for the third time after leading the League with 32 goals, and like Crosby is a finalist for the Ted Lindsay Award.

Ovechkin topped the League with 16 power-play goals and tied for third in the League with 56 points while playing all 48 games. Ovechkin was at his best during the Capitals' late push for a Southeast Division title. In his final 29 games he had 22 goals and 41 points, and helped the Capitals go 20-7-2 during that span.

If Ovechkin wins, he would become the eighth player with at least three Hart trophies, joining a group that includes Wayne Gretzky (nine), Gordie Howe (six), Eddie Shore (four), Bobby Clarke (three), Mario Lemieux (three), Howie Morenz (three) and Bobby Orr (three).

"It's big. It means like I'm still [a factor]," Ovechkin said of his fourth career Hart Trophy nomination, but 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."

Tavares is a first-time Hart finalist after helping the Islanders return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2007. He finished third in the League with 28 goals and his 47 points led the team. He averaged 20:46 of ice time per game and had 18 penalty minutes. He played all 48 games, the third time in his four seasons he has played every game; Tavares has missed three games in his NHL career, all in his second season.

With the Islanders bidding to upset the top-seeded Penguins, comparisons have naturally been drawn between Tavares and Crosby.

"I think he's his own player," Crosby said. "He's done a lot after he came into the League with a lot of pressure. ... I can relate to what that feels like and coming in with expectations and knowing that there's pressure and coming on to a young team, so there are similarities there, but he's his own player and he's done a great job handling that pressure and ultimately getting better every year and being a big reason why his team is here now. He had a great season ... and he's definitely got better and better each year."

If Tavares were to win the Hart, he would become the second Islanders player to do so, joining Bryan Trottier, who won it in 1979. The last Islanders player to finish as high as second was Trottier, who was runner-up to Gretzky in 1982.


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