After the classic semifinals series between his Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals ended last night with a dud from the home team and domination from the road team, Evgeni Malkin(notes) didn't look overjoyed when he was off the ice.
It was such a victory for the Penguins; why did Malkin look completely exhausted without even a smile on his face?
Geno finally grinned again. "No, it's just the job is only half done, it is only the second round," he said. "Yes, it is a great victory for us tonight, but the most important games are ahead of us. Of course we are happy that we won this game. But also all of the fatigue is accumulated after such a difficult and long series. So, it's time for some rest now."
The Penguins earned the rest, winning Game 7 by a 6-2 score and eliminating the Capitals in a hard-fought series that had plenty of animosity and intense passion. I spoke with Malkin about the Penguins' emotions after routing their rivals in Game 7. I also spoke with Capitals goalie Simeon Varlamov(notes) and winger Alexander Semin(notes) about what happened to their team in the biggest letdown of the season.
First, here is Malkin:
Q. It looked like you easily won the game tonight. Or the score is deceiving?
MALKIN: It all happened when Ovechkin had a one-on-one in the first period, and then we scored two quick goals, played well on the power play. In the second period it was the same story when we scored two quick goals. Maybe Varlamov was a bit unlucky. After that it was a bit easier for us to play, we played a good and smart defensive game.
So, in your opinion, the save Fleury had on Ovechkin (video) was the turning point of the game? And right after that moment right in the beginning of the game you felt some new energy in you?
Of course, when your goalie makes a save like that it helps you a lot. Right after that we scored on power play and it gave us the right push.
Did you think that it would be that easy to beat Washington in Game 7?
Of course we did not think that way. We just played the way we had been playing the entire series. It just so happened. We shot the puck the same, played the same system. Maybe today wasn't Washington's day.
When you were in the trainer's room, Mario Lemieux came in and told you something. What did he say?
Nothing in particular, he just congratulated us on the win. He is just like another player. He comes in, talks to the guys, congratulates on a win.
You spent a very long time in the trainer's room. Do you wave any injuries? Or did you come out of the series unscarred?
No, no, I was just getting a massage. There is nothing special or serious.
Now that you have your bitterest rival beat, the path is clear to the finals?
We'll keep trying, of course. Boston is still playing Carolina. Both of those teams are very strong opponents. I think with each round it will be even more difficult. Now the fatigue is accumulating... Of course we're happy that we're through. And we will keep trying to win every game.
Did you watch the final of the World Championships?
Of course I did! Congratulations to all Russians! This is a great victory for all the fans and players.
Pavel Datsyuk(notes) in his interview to Sovetsky Sport said that he watched the final right before Game 5 of the Detroit Red Wings' series against the Ducks to inspire him. Did it do the same for you?
Of course, I followed the game online and on TV. I think the game inspired every Russian player to perform well, Ovechkin and Semin included. They played really well too. It is always very emotional when your guys win. I know all of those guys, and the feelings are just indescribable.
What can you say about your captain? He played like a true captain in this series against Washington.
To be honest, I think everyone noticed that he played simply sensational, even better than expected. He led the team behind him, and it was so visible how hard he was trying this entire series. He scored very important goals, he was always the first. It helps a team a lot, when the captain is playing like that. It's all thanks to him that we won tonight as well, and won the series.
What did you tell Ovechkin when you shook hands after the game?
Just the usual words like 'great job' and 'it was a great series.' He wished me luck in the future and wished me to win the Stanley Cup.
Q. What happened tonight? Were you tired? Did you get up this morning from the wrong foot? Or just an off day?
VARLAMOV: No, I am just very tired, because it was a difficult season, very demanding. At firm I was playing for the farm team then I got injured. Psychologically it all shows at the end of the season. And in the playoffs there are games every other day. It is difficult to recover fully. I think psychologically I am more tired than physically.
And in this series? The Penguins just peppered you with shots.
In this series they did outshoot us. But what can you do? It is the goaltender's job to save shots, and it doesn't matter how many shots you face.
Where did it all go wrong tonight? The first penalty?
Maybe, because in a game like this you just cannot afford to take penalties when you have players like Crosby, Malkin and Gonchar playing against you on power play. And, if I am not mistaken, Pittsburgh didn't take any penalties themselves at all tonight. Discipline says a lot here.
You said that after the fourth goal you realized that you did not have your game, and that the coach made the right decision to pull you?
Yes, I think in these moments, when you concede four goals in 23-24 minutes, it is the right decision to switch goaltenders. He made the right decision, because I think the guys just wouldn't be able to play their game from then on, their heads were down. The coach tried to do something, to shake the team up by making this decision.
Were the heads down?
It is judging from how we were playing for the remainder of the second period, where the only bright moment was Alex Ovechkin's goal.
Ovechkin was a workhorse the entire series.
He is a true leader, a real leader. Alex gives it all every game regardless of whether he scores or not. His output on the ice just winds the team up. He is the leader in the locker room; he is the leader on the ice. It is so great. He helps the team a lot. What else can you say about him?
I did realize what a force he is. How many did he score against us? Eight? Ten? I think I am the sweetest goaltender for him now! He told me after the game 'You're alright; you played great.' But I think I am his favorite goalie [to score against] now. I don't know what he thinks. You can ask him about it. I think he will tell you that in his entire career he has never scarred another young inexperienced kid like Varlamov. [Varlamov said with a smile and a bit of irony]
After your phenomenal debut in the NHL playoffs, are you ready now to go back to Hershey to play for the Calder Cup?
If I am told on Friday that I should go to Hershey, I will go to Hershey to fight for the Calder Cup. How do you imagine me not wanting to win the Calder Cup? This is a prestigious trophy. Maybe it is not as prestigious as the Stanley Cup, but it is as difficult to win. The series can be just as long. And now the Bears will be in the Conference finals. It will be rough.
Now talk about Calder. Not the Cup, but the Trophy. Are you going to be a contender for the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year next year?
Here? In the NHL? [I then told Varlamov that he has not played enough games in the NHL not to be considered a rookie next year.] I am not going to think about it. For me the most important goal will be to make the first team.
Can we say that you were given a chance this year and you took it?
I think yes, probably. I think I took that chance because I was not benched after the first or the second game of the series. Maybe I did not fulfill [expectations] to 100 percent, but I tried playing hard in the playoffs. I cannot say that I am completely satisfied with my season, because we lost in the second round.
Now, a chat with Alexander Semin, who struggled during to the Penguins series without a goal.
Q. The season is over for the Capitals. How upsetting is this loss?
SEMIN: It is upsetting, especially because we lost this game by a wide margin. I don't know what happened to the team tonight. I have no words at all.
What's your opinion as to what happened? The series was more or less even.
I have absolutely no idea what happened. I couldn't even imagine... It was so sudden: 2-0 then 4-0...
Maybe the two sort of quick Pittsburgh goals broke you down?
There were a couple of moments, when Sanya [Ovechkin] had a one on one, then Fleischmann and I had a two on one. If we were to score those two goals, maybe everything would have been different. But they scored first. What's left to say about it now? The strongest win and get their breaks. Fleury played really well, and they didn't allow us to create anything.
Evgeni Malkin also said that the Alex Ovechkin breakaway was the turning point of the game. And Varlamov said that your heads were down after the fourth goal. Is it so?
I think he is right. In a game like this... Now we can talk and have a lot of discussions about it. But the fact is that we lost.
How would you rate your game in the series? In the series against the Rangers you got a lot of points, scored goals. But against Pittsburgh you couldn't get anything until Game 5.
It is a combination of things. Sometimes you just try hard and it doesn't go in... No excuses though.
The Penguins is the Capitals' bitter rival. Does it matter more that it was them that you lost to?
I don't think it matters anymore.
Can you say that you took a step forward comparing to the last season?
Honestly? In my opinion we played better last season. I think that despite the fact that we got a lot of points and finished second in the regular season this year, I really liked last year. This year we were like on a swing. I mean the playoffs. It was just different.
Would you have made it this far without Varlamov?
How can we even say what would have happened? Maybe we would have made it to the final with Jose [Theodore] in goal? Who knows? Because the one game when he let in a few goals is not the marker that he would play the same further in the playoffs. It is just a pure guessing game. There is no denying though that Varlamov was a massive influence. He won the series for us against the Rangers. And the series against the Penguins he carried on his shoulders practically alone. I don't know what would have happened if there had been no two quick goals. But your nerves and energy is not unlimited, and sometimes it just lets go.
Varlamov said that the heads were down after the fourth goal. Maybe it was because you saw your goalie pulled...
I don't think it mattered at that point. A four-goal deficit against a team like Pittsburgh cannot be overcome in the playoffs, I think. I mean, it can be overcome, but it is a miracle. I think you all realize that. But as for Varlamov, he played great. I don't think anyone was expecting this type of game from him.
You're right. No one was expecting this type of performance from him.
The reason for this is because he had not had his chance until the Rangers' series. That's my opinion. He did, however, play really well in the regular season. He must have made an impression then as well. There were some games, like the one against the Sabres, when three of their goals went in from our own sticks. But overall he must have made the right impression.
Are you going to continue watching playoffs? Ovechkin told us that that's it for him.
That's it for me too. The season is over for us. It was a good season: the regular season was good, we made it to the second round this year, took it to Game 7. Maybe at times we were a little bit unlucky.