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Malkin the Big Winner in Vegas

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

LAS VEGAS, Nevada – Evgeni Malkin better dust off his trophy shelf, because he’ll be adding three more pieces of hardware to the display.

Malkin notched a metaphorical hat trick at the 2012 NHL Awards in Las Vegas Wednesday night, walking away with the Hart (league MVP), Ted Lindsay (outstanding player as voted by peers) and Art Ross (scoring champion) trophies.

“It’s the best day of my life, a very special day,” he said. “I was very excited and nervous.”

Malkin was named the NHL’s most valuable player by unanimous vote (144 first places votes for Malkin, compared to four total between co-nominees Henrik Lundqvist and Steven Stamkos). Malkin is only the fourth player in team history to win the Hart Trophy (Mario Lemieux, 3; Sidney Crosby, 1; Jaromir Jagr, 1).

Upon receiving the Hart, Malkin dedicated the award to former teammate, fellow countryman, mentor and friend Sergei Gonchar in a moving speech.

“I remember when I came to the U.S. six years ago,” he said in his award acceptance speech, “it’s a different language. I cannot speak it. It’s a different life and different game. It’s not easy. One guy who always supported me, all six years, and is still my friend – I want to give this trophy to him – his name is Sergei Gonchar. He’s my best friend right now. We’re always together. I’m glad I met him.”

NHL players voted Malkin as the recipient of the Ted Lindsay Award, the eighth for the Penguins organization (Lemieux, 4; Jagr, 2; Crosby, 1). The eight Ted Lindsays for the Penguins are the most by any team in the NHL (Edmonton, 6).

“It’s special because it’s the players I play against every game,” Malkin said. “They voted for me. Of course, I thank my fans from Pittsburgh and Russia, too.”

Malkin already locked up the Art Ross, the second of his career, with 109 points (50G-59A) in the regular season (12 more than second-place finisher Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay).

Malkin’s journey to the top of the National Hockey League began one year ago in the summer heat of Moscow.

While most people spend their summers on vacation or with leisurely activities, Malkin was waking up in the early morning hours and spending his days at the gym, ice rink and swimming pool rehabbing from a knee injury.

“What you saw was a guy that wanted to get back on the ice more than anything (after the injury),” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “That carried over into a different type of summer for him.

“This guy always competes and works hard in practice. But I think you saw right from the spring of ’11, it carried over into camp and into the start of the season.”

Malkin overcame knee surgery on his torn ligaments, which typically takes approximately 18 months to fully recover from, to reclaim his title as the best hockey player in the world after dominating the NHL.

And while everyone knew that Malkin was the best player in the NHL this past season, it became official when he walked away with the clean sweep and trifecta of awards.

Malkin joined an exclusive group of eight players to win the Hart, Art Ross and Ted Lindsay trophies in the same year: Wayne Gretzky; Lemieux; Crosby; Jagr; Phil Esposito; Guy Lafleur; Martin St. Louis; and Alex Ovechkin.

Malkin previously won the Art Ross with 113 points (35G-78A) in the 2008-09 season, the same year he won Conn Smythe (playoff MVP) while leading the Penguins to a Stanley Cup title.

Malkin was nominated for the Hart and Ted Lindsay awards in 2007-08 and ’08-09, but finished as the runner-up both times to Ovechkin.

Now that Malkin has finally won the awards he rightly deserved, he’s hoping this won’t be his last big night in Vegas (as far as NHL hardware goes, that is).

“I hope it’s not my last,” he said. “I’ll work every year and hope to win again.”

Malkin said Tuesday that he wanted to maintain the way he played this past season over the next 10 years. He reiterated that to the media Wednesday night at a podium while surrounding by his three trophies.

“I love this sport and this team,” he said. “I want to be the best (player) the next 10 years.”

With his dedication and commitment, he may accomplish that goal. And if that’s the case, he’d better buy a few more shelves to display all the trophies he’ll collect in the next decade.

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