Ovechkin going for 3rd straight award

NEW YORK -- Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin will have to settle their simmering rivalry at the ballot box instead of on the ice.

The Pittsburgh Penguins star and his Washington Capitals counterpart joined Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday as finalists for the Hart Trophy given to the league's MVP. The winner will be announced June 23 in Las Vegas.

Crosby and Ovechkin have traded verbal jabs -- and some real ones -- over the past few years as they combined to win three consecutive Hart Trophies. The last two have gone to Ovechkin, who has made a name for himself as perhaps the most dynamic goal scorer since Wayne Gretzky, winner of a record eight straight MVP awards from 1980-87.

Their teams were expected to meet in the Eastern Conference semifinals in the next chapter of their burgeoning feud, and Crosby did his part by helping Pittsburgh defeat the Ottawa Senators in six games. But the Capitals stumbled to three straight losses against the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens, including a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat in Game 7 on Wednesday night.

"I don't know what to say," Ovechkin said after the game, his head bowed. "It was great going up 3-1 in the series, but it's only one step. We didn't do it."

It was yet another bitter postseason disappointment for Ovechkin, who has watched his team lose three of four career playoff series -- all in Game 7.

And it will almost certainly tarnish an otherwise splendid run in which he reached 50 goals for the third straight season, scored seven game-winners and finished three points behind Sedin for the league scoring mark, all despite missing 10 games to injuries and suspension.

Ovechkin also finished one goal behind co-leaders Steven Stamkos and Crosby, who won the Hart Trophy in 2007 and could add another after a remarkable year of his own.

Besides winning his first Maurice Richard Trophy and scoring six game winners, Crosby has the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins positioned for another deep run. They play the Canadiens on Friday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Then there was his charmed month of February, when Crosby scored the gold medal-winning goal for Canada against the United States at the Vancouver Olympics.

"I don't really think about the season and I don't reflect on the season too often," Crosby said Thursday. "You try to be as consistent as you can. I was able to score a bit more this year, and that was something I was able to improve on and was happy I did."

Sedin may have had the most impressive stretch of any individual player, even though he rarely generates the same kind of headlines as the league's two poster boys. The Canucks' star has 112 points heading into Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinals against the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night, 30 more than his previous career high.

He's the first player in the 40-year history of the Vancouver franchise to win the Art Ross Trophy as the league scoring champion, easily led the league with 83 assists, and excelled when his twin brother and linemate Daniel Sedin missed 19 games with a broken foot.

"They're two players who can play great without the other," Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews said Thursday after a morning skate. "When you put them together, they really understand each other and they know where the other guy is going to be out there."