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Hart Race Highlights Star-Studded NHL Awards

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

Evgeni Malkin
will find out this week if carrying the Penguins to a 108-point season without the services of captain Sidney Crosby for three-quarters of the games was good enough to be the National Hockey League's most valuable player for the 2011-12 season.

Malkin, who already won the Art Ross Trophy for leading the NHL in scoring with 109 points, is a finalist for the Hart Trophy along with Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist and Lightning center Steven Stamkos.

The Hart Trophy will be the biggest prize handed out Wednesday at the 2012 NHL Awards at Encore Theater in Wynn Las Vegas (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN; 8 p.m local CBC), where the hockey world and the entertainment world come together for the League's annual end-of-the-season celebration.

"He's been dominant on the ice. He's been good at both ends of the rink and he's been maybe the best player, the most dominant player, in the League," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said during the season when asked about Malkin. "He's buoyed our team when we've gone through a bunch of injuries."

Thirty-one players, coaches and executives representing 17 teams are up for the 12 awards that will be presented by a star-studded group that includes Kevin Connolly, Ray Liotta, Eric Stonestreet, Colin Hanks, Joshua Jackson, Matthew Perry, Vince Vaughn, Michael Vartan, Cheryl Burke, Cory Monteith and Adam Pally.

NBC's Pierre McGuire and Eddie Olczyk, Hockey Night in Canada's Andi Petrillo and PJ Stock, NHL Network's Barry Melrose and Kathryn Tappen, ESPN's Erin Andrews, and Hall of Fame members Ted Lindsay and Mark Messier also will be presenters Wednesday night. Nickelback will perform, and the show will feature special appearances by Will Arnett, Tracy Morgan and Kevin Smith.

In addition to the awards, the EA Sports NHL 13 cover athlete presented by BlackBerry will be unveiled. The finalists are Philadelphia center Claude Giroux and Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne.

Malkin, a two-time runner-up for the Hart Trophy, set the pace in the scoring race with 50 goals and 59 assists in 75 games. Stamkos became the 20th player in the League history to score 60 goals; he hit the mark on the final day of the season, capping a nine-game stretch in which he scored 10 goals. He finished the season with 97 points, second behind Malkin.

Lundqvist, who is also up for the Vezina Trophy as the League's best goalie, is the first goalie in five years and the eighth since 1980 to be a finalist for the Hart Trophy. His .930 save percentage was tops in the League among goalies with 40 or more games played. He was second behind Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings with a 1.97 goals-against average and third in wins with 39.

The wins, save percentage and GAA all represented career-bests for Lundqvist, who has been to the awards three previous times as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.

Malkin, Stamkos and Lundqvist also are the finalists for the Ted Lindsay Award, which is given to the League's most outstanding player as voted on by the National Hockey League Players' Association.

"I never really thought about that (being a finalist for the Hart)," Lundqvist said. "That's just a big bonus. It's a pretty amazing feeling."

Joining Lundqvist in the field for the Vezina Trophy are Quick and Rinne.

Quick recorded a League-high 10 shutouts along with 35 wins, a 1.95 GAA and .929 save percentage. All that, of course, came before his outstanding postseason that earned him his first Stanley Cup championship and Conn Smythe Trophy.

"He's grown a ton," Kings captain Dustin Brown said of Quick. "When he first came in he had flashes of what he's doing now … but from the standpoint of growth, the biggest place he's grown is with his consistency. What you've seen from him this year, we had that for about 50-60 games last year. Now he's had a full year where he's on his game. He's a year older and a year wiser, and that helps with consistency."

Rinne led the NHL with 43 wins. He had a .923 save percentage and 2.39 GAA.

Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara is looking to win the Norris Trophy for the second time in his career. Chara, who was named the League's top defenseman in 2009, has competition from Nashville's Shea Weber and Ottawa's Erik Karlsson. Weber is a finalist for the second straight season, and Karlsson, who led all blueliners with 78 points, is up for the award for the first time.

New Jersey Devils center Adam Henrique became famous for his clutch goal scoring in the playoffs (he netted OT series winners in Game 7 against Florida and Game 6 against the Rangers along with the winning goal in Game 4 of the Final against the Kings), but he will be in Vegas as a Calder Trophy finalist because of what he did in his first NHL regular season.

Henrique led all rookies with 35 assists and was second behind fellow finalists Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of Edmonton and Gabriel Landeskog of Colorado with 51 points. Nugent-Hopkins and Landeskog each had 52 points.

Though Landeskog played in 82 games, Henrique appeared in 74 after being a late-October call-up, and Nugent-Hopkins was limited to 62 due to various injuries.

"Hopefully I can bring some hardware back and get my name up there with Marty (Brodeur)," Henrique said, referring to the list of award winners on the wall in the Devils dressing room.

The St. Louis Blues' surprising run to the second seed in the Western Conference was good enough to bring their captain, coach and general manager to Las Vegas this week.

David Backes is up for the Selke Trophy along with Boston center Patrice Bergeron and Detroit center Pavel Datsyuk. Ken Hitchcock is a finalist for the Jack Adams Award along with the Rangers' John Tortorella and the Senators' Paul MacLean. And Doug Armstrong joins Florida's Dale Tallon and Nashville's David Poile as the executives up for the General Manager of the Year Award.

Armstrong made the bold move to hire Hitchcock to take over for Davis Payne 13 games into the season. With Hitchcock behind the bench, Backes leading the way, and Armstrong setting the tone from the front office, St. Louis went 43-15-11 over the final 69 games to win the Central Division for the first time since 1999-2000.

"I think the manager of the year is really the ultimate team award, from the work that the players and the scouts and coaches do," Armstrong told the Blues' website. "It's verification almost of an organizational award."

The other awards and trophies that will be handed out Wednesday include the Lady Byng Trophy (Brian Campbell, Jordan Eberle, Matt Moulson), Masterton Trophy (Daniel Alfredsson, Joffrey Lupul, Max Pacioretty), Bridgestone Messier Leadership Award (Brown, Ryan Callahan, Shane Doan) and the NHL Foundation Award (Mike Fisher, John-Michael Liles, Moulson).

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

Author: Dan Rosen | Senior Writer

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