Penguins' Evgeni Malkin, Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist the Favorites in NHL MVP Race

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor IFebruary 29, 2012

Penguins' Evgeni Malkin, Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist the Favorites in NHL MVP Race

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    The NHL awards the Hart Memorial Trophy to "the player judged most valuable to his team" by the Pro Hockey Writers Association. 

    Last year, Anaheim's Corey Perry 's strong second-half finish helped him edge out Daniel Sedin of Vancouver for the award.  Henrik Sedin won the Hart in 2010.

    While Nashville's Pekka Rinne and Claude Giroux of Philadelphia will get some support, there are three clear-cut finalists for the Hart Trophy this year.

Evgeni Malkin

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    Sure, Evgeni Malkin his leading the NHL in points right now, but that's not the only reason he is a clear-cut Hart Trophy finalist. 

    Malkin has come through for the Penguins when they needed him the most. Superstar Sidney Crosby has played only eight games all season, and even now, nobody is sure when "Sid the Kid" will be back. Jordan Staal has also missed significant time during the season due to injury, leaving the Penguins thin down the middle.

    But with key teammates out of action, Malkin has raised up his game. He is second in the league in goals and first overall in points. He has a total of 26 points on the power play and already has a career-high eight game-winning goals with 20 games left on the schedule.

    Malkin has also become a real leader in the locker room. Early in his career, he seemed quiet and reserved mostly due to his limited understanding of English. Now, there is no doubt that Malkin is someone all of his teammates look to when the game is on the line.

    Without Malkin's key contributions, Pittsburgh would be struggling just to make the playoffs.  Instead, the Pens are fighting for home-ice advantage in the first round and are a team that nobody wants to face in April or May.

Henrik Lundqvist

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    The New York Rangers are on top of the Eastern Conference standings, and there is no way they would be there without the stellar play of goalie Henrik Lundqvist

    The Rangers are eighth in the Eastern Conference and 13th in the NHL in goals scored per game with 2.67, but have a comfortable lead in the standings because of the stellar play of "King Henrik."

    The 30-year-old Swede already has 30 wins this season and leads the NHL in shutouts (eight) and save percentage (an incredible .940). He is also second in the league with a 1.75 goals against average. 

    There are some who say goalies should not get much support for league MVP, and no netminder has won the award since Jose Theodore in 2002. But anyone who has watched Lundqvist play this year knows he is one of the best in the game at any position and that the Rangers would be nowhere near the top of the Eastern Conference without his contributions. 

Henrik Sedin

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    The Vancouver Canucks won the Presidents' Trophy last year with the league's best record and are in the thick of the fight for first place in the West again this season. There is no way they would be there without the play of the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel.

    The Sedins are very familiar with this award, as Henrik won the Hart two years ago, while Daniel was the runner up in 2010-11.

    This year, Henrik is leading the NHL in assists while adding five game-winning goals and 22 points on the power play. Henrik is also sixth overall in the league in scoring, and both he and his brother are indispensable parts of the Canucks offensive attack.

    The presence of Daniel may hurt Henrik's chances, as voters tend to think of the Sedins as a unit rather than as individuals, but make no mistake about it, Henrik Sedin is a strong candidate for the Hart again this season.

Hart Trophy

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    The Hart Trophy took part in this year's All Star festivities.