The “MVP” chants began late in the second period when Alex Ovechkin set up Nicklas Backstrom for a go-ahead goal.
They resurfaced, this time louder and stronger, in the final minute of the game when Ovechkin blasted a slapshot into an empty net, the exclamation point on a Southeast Division-clinching 5-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets.
“I hear it and it would be nice,” Ovechkin told a small group of reporters Wednesday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “To be honest with you, I don’t focus about it, especially last game. It’s more about winning.”
Voting for the Hart Trophy concludes on Tuesday and many believe Ovechkin needs to pull off a trifecta – division title, goal title, points title -- to beat out Sidney Crosby for his third Most Valuable Player award.
With two games remaining in the regular season Ovechkin leads the NHL with 31 goals and ranks fourth in points with 53, one behind Steven Stamkos, two behind Marty St. Louis and three behind Crosby, who was a lock to win his second Hart Trophy before getting knocked out of the lineup on March 30 with a broken jaw.
“Would he have been the MVP? Sure,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said of Crosby, who had 56 points in 36 games at the time of his injury.
Should the number of games a player plays be considered when declaring the league’s MVP?
“It matters,” Oates said. “What is the magic number? I don’t know. That’s not for me to judge. [Crosby] is a fantastic player no matter what. But he’s been hurt, he’s missed a lot of game and their team has won every single night without him. I think that makes it tough for the voters.”
One thing is certain. With Ovechkin's incredible offensive surge – he has 22 goals and 33 points in his last 21 games -- the Capitals' captai has replaced the negative attention that surrounded him in the first month of the season with talk of him being the best player in the game.
“It seems like people who been all over me, they can close their mouths,” Ovechkin said.
“Like I said months ago, if I’m going to have a couple bad games everybody will be all over me again. I just tell myself it doesn’t matter what’s going to happen. Just don’t listen to nobody -- fans, you guys. I just have to listen to my teammates and my coach and that’s it.”
Ironically, there are those who will tell you that because of his improvements in the defensive zone Ovechkin might be a better all-around player today than he was when he was leading the NHL with 65 goals in 2008.
Does Ovechkin think he’s better?
“You can ask somebody else about it,” he said. “I’m not going to answer that question.”
He will say that at 27 he is more mature now than when he entered the league as a 19-year-old bundle of unbridled energy. He is, after all, engaged to be married to Russian tennis star Maria Kirilenko.
“I’ve just grown up like a person, that’ the most important thing,” Ovechkin said. “When you’re grown up you understand a little bit more. You take little steps forward the whole time.”
With Mike Green also 27 and Nicklas Backstrom 25, Ovechkin says these Capitals are a more seasoned group than they ones that sizzled in previous regular seasons but fizzled in the playoffs.
“The first four years when we played together it was emotion,” he said. “We play all the time emotion game. Right now we have experience to get success.
“If we get emotion and we use our experience I don’t think somebody going to play better than us. It’s nice when you see the boys when you’re growing up together for a long time. You see their progress. It’s unbelievable.”
So how did the more mature Ovechkin celebrate his fifth Southeast Division title in six years Tuesday night?
“We went to the bar. I get home like 7 in the morning,” Ovechkin said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “I get hammered. It’s kind of Russian celebration.”