A Two-Man Race
With two months left in the NHL season, it's official.
The race for the Hart Trophy as league MVP is down to two, and it's going to be one heck of a charge to the finish line.
It's crystal clear that Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur have separated themselves from the crowd, a very deep and talented crowd that includes Vancouver netminder Roberto Luongo, Tampa Bay centre Vincent Lecavalier and Anaheim blueliner Scott Niedermayer.
But Crosby and Brodeur are clearly the two to watch.
Crosby, in case you haven't noticed, is running away with the NHL scoring race, 14 points clear of his closest rival.
On Thursday night, he conquered his personal bugaboo, scoring the shootout winner against Philly after going 0-7 on free shots earlier this season.
The Pens only need to play .500 hockey the rest of the way, probably, to qualify for post-season competition, which makes Crosby's Hart candidacy that much stronger.
And Sid the Kid's in town Saturday night to face a Leaf team that's desperate to prove it can win on home ice.
Brodeur, meanwhile, picked up his 10th shutout Thursday against the Islanders, remarkable given that this is supposed to be a time for heightened offence and he plays in the Eastern Conference against the most prolific scorers in the league most nights.
With 34 wins and 37 Devils game to play, Brodeur looks poised to smash Bernie Parent's 1973-74 record of 47 wins, probably inevitable given the extra opportunities available to modern goalies to pick up wins through OT and shootouts.
That Brodeur, barring injury, will get the chance to break the record seems equally inevitable. His backup, Scott Clemmensen, hasn't played since Dec. 14 and has blocked shots for the Devils for only 149 minutes this season.
Shutout-wise, Brodeur became the third goalie ever to pick up 90 in his career with his perfect outing against the Isles. He's four short of George Hainsworth and just 13 shy of Terry Sawchuk's all-time record.
That Sawchuk mark of 103 was always one that seemed unbreakable, like DiMaggio's 56-game streak.
But Brodeur, still only 34 years old, could break it by next season.
So you have to believe it's Brodeur vs. Crosby for the Hart.
If there's a downside to this story, its that both toil for franchises that are clearly struggling to survive.
The Pens still haven't been able to come up with a new arena deal to stay in Pittsburgh despite all kinds of speculation that an agreement is imminent.
Jersey, meanwhile, drew only 10,110 for the Islander game, and have had as few as 8,269 for a game this year.
A new arena in Newark beckons, but it better come complete with legions of newly committed supporters.