Ovechkin and Washington "Cap" NHL Season
AP Hockey Writer
Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals made the final day of the NHL's regular season a little anticlimactic Sunday.
Once the Capitals completed their stirring comeback from oblivion to the Southeast Division title on Saturday night, all that was left on the last day was some housekeeping and seed switching.
The 16 playoff teams were all decided when the Capitals beat the Florida Panthers at home. That got Washington into the postseason party for the first time since 2003 and eliminated the Carolina Hurricanes, the team that led the Southeast most of the season.
Ovechkin, on the strength of his league-high 65 goals - the most since Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux scored 69 in 1996 - won the NHL scoring title with 112 points.
Evgeni Malkin of Pittsburgh was blanked along with the rest of his teammates in a 2-0 loss at Philadelphia on Sunday and finished second with 106 points, including 47 goals.
The only other 50-goal scorers in the league were Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk (52), and Calgary's Jarome Iginla, who hit the mark Saturday night in his final game.
Ovechkin's mantle, which already holds the rookie of the year trophy he won in 2006, will suddenly be a lot more crowded. The points title earned him the Art Ross Trophy, and his league-best goal total carries the Maurice Richard Trophy.
Add it all together with the Capitals' playoff charge, and it's safe to assume the MVP award might soon belong to Ovechkin, too. He is the first Russian-born player to win the Ross and Richard trophies in the same season and the sixth overall to do it in 37 years.
Quite a switch from last season when Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby captured the scoring title and Hart Trophy (MVP), and Malkin earned top rookie honors.
"I had a great season," Malkin said through an interpreter. "I'm not really upset about not getting the goals. I'm happy that Ovechkin won."
All along Ovechkin said his main focus and drive was that playoff spot, and the way he celebrated Washington's goals on Saturday night it was easy to believe him. The Capitals earned the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and will face No. 6 Philadelphia, which jumped two spots in the East with its final day win.
Pittsburgh's loss in that game left the Atlantic Division champs in second place in the East, two points behind the surprising Montreal Canadiens, who didn't even qualify for last year's playoffs.
The Canadiens, who won a division title for the first time since 1992, will face longtime rival, the Boston Bruins, whom they beat in all eight meetings this season.
The Penguins will take on the slumping Ottawa Senators, who finished seventh in the East after holding the lead in the conference until the end of February. Ottawa took out Pittsburgh in five games a year ago en route to its first trip to the Stanley Cup finals since the franchise was reborn in 1992.
"When you get to the playoffs, every team that you meet is a good matchup because those teams deserve to be in the playoffs," Penguins coach Michel Therrien. "It could have been the Flyers ... now it's Ottawa. It's going to be a good matchup. If you're looking down all the series, they're all going to be great matchups."
In the remaining East series, the New Jersey Devils will take on cross-river rival New York Rangers in the 4 vs. 5 matchup that begins Wednesday night. Both teams knew going into their final head-to-head matchup Sunday they would be first-round opponents, but the question remained who would own home-ice advantage.
That fell into the hands of the Devils once the game went into overtime. With the necessary point already secured, New Jersey finished off the Rangers 3-2 in a shootout to salvage a win in that eight-game season series (1-4-3).
"There was a lot of emotion in the building, and now it all starts over Wednesday," Devils coach Brent Sutter said. "We're at a new level now and a new stage."
The Detroit Red Wings are the key player out West after they captured the Presidents' Trophy for the sixth time in 13 seasons. With a league-best 115 points, the Red Wings will start the playoffs against eighth-seeded Nashville.
Detroit's MVP contender Nicklas Lidstrom scored two goals Sunday in a 4-1 win over Chicago, giving him 10 on the season and 70 points - the most among defensemen.
The second-seeded San Jose Sharks, who surged to the Pacific Division title on the strength of a season-ending 14-2-2 spurt, will take on No. 7 Calgary. The other Western series will pit No. 3 Minnesota against No. 6 Colorado, and No. 4 Anaheim vs. No. 5 Dallas.
Colorado moved up to create a matchup with its Northwest Division rival with a 4-3 shootout win over Minnesota on Sunday.
"It's great," said Colorado's Peter Forsberg, who had three assists. "I ended up on a good note and we got the win. Now the fun starts."
San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov led the NHL with 46 wins, topping New Jersey's Martin Brodeur, who had 44 after breaking the league mark with 48 last season.
Red Wings goalies Dominik Hasek and Chris Osgood combined to win the Jennings Trophy by allowing a league-low 184 goals for the team.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 9:41 PM
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