Saturday, May 11, 2013

John Tavares, Islanders Star, Is Hart Trophy Finalist by The New York Times

John Tavares is a finalist for the Hart Trophy, which is given to the N.H.L.’s most valuable player.

John Tavares, Islanders Star, Is Hart Trophy Finalist
by Allan Kreda

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The Islanders had just lost, 4-0, in Game 5 of their playoff series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but there was some good news for the star center John Tavares.

Tavares, 22, whom the Islanders selected with the first overall pick in the 2009 draft, was named a finalist for the Hart Trophy, along with Sidney Crosby of Pittsburgh and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. It is heady company for Tavares, who learned on the team plane from the assistant Doug Weight that he was in the running for the award, given to the N.H.L.’s most valuable player, for the first time.

“I was shocked,” Tavares said after Friday’s optional skate at Nassau Coliseum. “It’s a tremendous honor. I’m glad to be recognized, but it’s more about our team and what we’ve accomplished this season.”

The eighth-seeded Islanders host Game 6 against the top-seeded Penguins on Saturday, trailing in the series, three games to two. If the Islanders win, Game 7 will be Sunday in Pittsburgh.

The Penguins' Sidney Crosby is also a Hart Trophy finalist.
The star-laden Penguins dominated the Eastern Conference during the abbreviated regular season with a 36-12-0 mark and were expected to skate past the Islanders with ease, especially after Crosby returned in Game 2 from a jaw injury. But the Islanders rallied to win Game 2, 4-3, and took Game 4, 6-4, in front of a boisterous home crowd.

That led Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma to switch goaltenders in Game 5. He went with the backup Tomas Vokoun over Marc-Andre Fleury, who allowed 14 goals in three games after shutting out the Islanders in the series opener.

Vokoun smothered the Islanders in Game 5, stopping 31 shots in his first playoff start in six years.

“We’ve been playing playoff-style games for a month and a half now,” Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic said. “Obviously, there is much more at stake now, but we are used to intense pressure.”

For Tavares, who scored the tying goal to force overtime in Game 3 and the winner in Game 4, the biggest contest of his career along with the award nomination presented an unusual juxtaposition.

“I’m just trying to stay in the moment and focus on the game,” said Tavares, one of 13 Islanders in the playoffs for the first time. “I let my parents know when I found out about the Hart, but the next game is most important right now. We need to play our best. There’s no doubt we will be ready in front of our home crowd.”

Islanders Coach Jack Capuano credited Tavares with helping to foster confidence with the young squad.

“If John didn’t have the season we had, we’re probably not where we are,” Capuano said. “He did a lot for our team. He deserves the Hart consideration — no doubt.”

Hart Trophy finalists include the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin.
Crosby, 25, was fourth in the N.H.L. with 56 points despite missing 12 games with a broken jaw. Ovechkin led the league with 32 goals in 48 games, and Tavares was third with 28 goals and added 19 assists.

The Hart winner will be announced during the Stanley Cup finals in June. Crosby won the award in 2007, and Ovechkin took the honors in 2008 and 2009.

Only one Islanders player has captured the Hart: Bryan Trottier in 1978-79, when the team had a league-high 116 points and Trottier had 47 goals and 87 assists.

Crosby, who led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup in 2009, two months before his 22nd birthday, said he could relate to Tavares and the immense pressure he faced as the top overall pick.

“I know what that feels like — coming in with expectations with a young team,” said Crosby, the top overall pick by the Penguins in 2005 after a lockout-lost season. “He’s his own player, and he’s done a great job. He’s a big reason why his team is at the point they are at now. Definitely, he has gotten better every year.”

Left wing Matt Moulson has been at Tavares’s side for Tavares’s entire N.H.L. career. A three-time 30-goal scorer, thanks to Tavares, Moulson took a moment to savor the achievement of his linemate.

“He’s very deserving,” said Moulson, 29, who has two goals against the Penguins in his playoff debut. “John wants to be the best. And he works extremely hard at that. He’s raised his game, and I’m glad people can see that.” — The New York Times

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