Capitals right wing Alex Ovechkin has been named one of three Hart Trophy finalists for NHL most valuable player in 2013.

A two-time Hart Trophy winner in 2007-08 and 2008-09 and a finalist in 2009-10, Ovechkin led the league with 32 goals in the lockout-shortened season to earn the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy and finished third in points (56). Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and the New York Islanders’ John Tavares are the other finalists.

The Professional Hockey Writers Association nominates the finalists and votes on the award, which goes to the player “adjudged to be the most valuable to his team.”

It was a satisfying moment for Ovechkin, who bore the brunt of heavy criticism early in the season as he struggled to score goals and the Caps were in last place in the Southeast Division after a 2-8-1 start.

“It’s nice and I’m sure I’m going to have time to celebrate later, but right now it’s all about business and focus on the game,” Ovechkin said. He later added: “Hard year, it was hard season for all of us and I’m happy to be in that kind of position.”

But Ovechkin caught fire with 23 goals in his final 23 games of the season as Washington rallied to win the Southeast Division and earn a Stanley Cup playoff spot. That streak began on March 14 in a game at Carolina when Ovechkin was reunited with linemates Nick Backstrom and Marcus Johansson.  Prior to that, Ovechkin had just nine goals in his first 25 games. Part of his narrative was a full-time switch to right wing for the first time in his career – an experiment that was interrupted for four games early in the season before Ovechkin conceded a return at coach Adam Oates’ urging.

“I think after taking a lot of heat and people were on him a lot, he just turned it around and started scoring and played better,” Backstrom. “It takes a lot of courage to do that.”

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