by Greg Beacham
AP Sports Writer
LAS VEGAS (AP)—Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin won the Hart Trophy on June 23, becoming the NHL’s most valuable player for the first time. Three Swedish players also claimed major trophies at the annual NHL Awards postseason ceremony, but the Penguins’ Russian superstar claimed three awards for himself.
|MOST VALUABLE—Pittsburgh Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin poses with the Ted Lindsay Award, the Art Ross Trophy and the Hart Trophy during the NHL Awards, June 20, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Malkin won the Hart for the first time at the Wynn Las Vegas casino, beating out Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist and Tampa Bay scorer Steven Stamkos. Malkin also collected the Art Ross Trophy as the league scoring champion and the Ted Lindsay Award from his fellow NHLPA members as the NHL’s best player.
“It’s the best day of my life,” said Malkin, known to teammates and fans as Geno. “It’s very exciting.”
Malkin gathered the Hart, Ross and Lindsay awards next to him after the ceremony, only occasionally struggling in his ever-improving English to express his excitement. Malkin’s 109-point season and steady leadership were even more impressive because he largely did it without teammate Sidney Crosby, who played just 22 games after his comeback from a concussion.
“I can’t believe I’m sitting here, and around me there are three trophies,” Malkin said. “It’s an unbelievable day for me.”
Malkin, who turns 26 next month, edged out Stamkos and Lundqvist, who still won the Vezina Trophy for the first time.
But the spotlight was on Malkin, who won his first MVP award after arguably the most impressive season of his six-year career in Pittsburgh.
Malkin had a career-high 50 goals and 59 assists while carrying the Penguins during the extended injury absence of 2007 Hart winner Crosby. Malkin was the NHL’s only 100-point scorer this season and the first scoring champion in a decade to win a second title despite being almost every opponent’s top defensive target whenever they faced the Penguins.
Malkin also grew into a more prominent role outside of Crosby’s shadow.
“Every year I’m a little bit more comfortable,” he said. “I learn English, watch TV, go out with friends and teammates. I love this sport. I like my teammates, and I want to be the best.”
Malkin scored eight points in the Penguins’ six-game loss to Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs. The four-time NHL All-Star then was named the MVP of the IIHF World Championships last month after leading the undefeated Russian team to the title.
Malkin was a Hart finalist for the third time.