John Tavares a finalist for Hart Trophy

John Tavares of the Islanders is seen on

John Tavares of the Islanders is seen on the ice against the Philadelphia Flyers in a NHL hockey game at Nassau Coliseum. (April 9, 2013) (Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke)

It is another step in the Islanders' incremental rise to old heights that John Tavares has been named one of three finalists for the NHL's most valuable player award.

Tavares, the 22-year-old star center, has joined Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Washington's Alex Ovechkin in the running for the Hart Trophy. The winner will be announced during the Stanley Cup Finals.

"I was a little shocked," said Tavares, who got the news on the plane ride home from Thursday night's 4-0 loss in Pittsburgh. "A lot of emotion, just because of the game and disappointed . It's a great honor. Tremendous honor to be recognized, especially with those two guys . . . "

The only Islander ever to win the Hart was Bryan Trottier in 1979, the year before the Islanders won the first of four consecutive Stanley Cups and established themselves as a 1980s NHL juggernaut.

In the years leading up to -- and during -- the team's championship run, Trottier also was twice Hart runner-up, Denis Potvin finished second once and Mike Bossy third once. The last Islander to finish among the top three finalists was Trottier in 1984.

"To me, when you look at most valuable players, I always look at what that player does for his team," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "And, let's face it, if John Tavares didn't have the season he had, we're probably not in the situation that we're in" -- their first playoff appearance in six years.

In the lockout-shortened 48-game season, Tavares scored 28 goals -- third among all league scorers and only three fewer than in the full 82-game 2011-12 season -- and had 19 assists for a team-leading 47 points.

"He's been doing it since he was 15 years old," Capuano said, "and, like a lot of elite players in this league, the puck finds those guys. And you can say it finds them, but it's the hockey sense and the work ethic that gets those opportunities. When we needed a big goal, he was there for us."

Longtime linemate Matt Moulson called Tavares "very deserving. He works hard to be the best. He just keeps getting smarter and more mature."

Since being the league's first overall draft pick in 2009, Tavares steadily has raised the visibility of what once was a model NHL franchise that foundered for years.

"I think us being in the playoffs this year," Tavares said, "people recognize the way we've played and where we came from and where we're headed, and obviously we're still right in the middle of things here .

"I'm trying to keep the mind focused on what's important right now, trying to stay in the moment. As great as the honor is, you play this game to be part of a team and compete for the Stanley Cup. It's so much fun coming to the rink every day. It's a special bunch of guys and we want to extend it beyond [tonight]."

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