The Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins will meet in Game 6 of their series tonight, with the Penguins having a chance to end this classic battle on home ice. In preparation for the game, I spoke with Penguins star Evgeni Malkin(notes) following Game 5 while my colleague Dmitry Shumin spoke with Capitals goalie Simeon Varlamov(notes) for a revealing conversation.
Malkin's parents were in attendance Saturday night in Washington. They took a bus from Pittsburgh together with other Penguins' fans. Natalia Malkina (Evgeni's mother) told me that they were sitting in a box with Mario the entire game cheering on their son. Natalia also told me that they were hoping for the series to be over in six games, because games against Washington are too intense for the nervous system.
Natalia was standing outside of the Pens' locker room while Evgeni's father went into the locker room to congratulate his son. When Malkin came of out the trainer's room and saw his father, he said with a smile: "How did you get here? Who let you in?"
Mario walked by and shook Malkin's parents' hands and congratulated them on the great performance by their son. Coach Bylsma also stopped by. That's when Dmitry Shumin and I asked the coach to pose for a picture with Natalia and Vladimir (Malkin's father). Instead of saying ‘smile' or ‘cheese' for the picture, we asked all three to say 'Geno.'
They obliged. As for Malkin, here are his thoughts.
Q. Congratulations on being named the first star of the game.
MALKIN: Me? The first star? I am very surprised! I think Alex Ovechkin played better, scored more goals.
You scored the game winner. I think this is the reason you were named the first star.
It is very nice. Everyone played really well tonight. I think it wasn't just me, but the entire team believed that we could win this game. And we got it. We were down 2-1, came out for the third period very composed, started attacking from the start and scored a couple of quick goals. We believed the entire game that we could win regardless of how everything was going. We played till the end, and started the overtime really well. We created a couple of chances, got on a power play and scored the game winner.
It appeared that tonight there were two very tired teams playing.
Of course! All the energy has to end some time. We played two games, back to back, and there wasn't much time to recover. It has been a long season. But we still tried to show good hockey, and I hope we achieved that."
Were the calls in overtime a little strange? It appeared that the Capitals did not get a couple of calls go their way and you did.
When I drew the penalty, I was rushing forward and was hit on my legs. I think it was a clear penalty. But the other instances in overtime I just didn't see, because I was trying to create space myself, get into a better position. I did hear the fans react to something, but I did not see the moment. So, I cannot judge.
I noticed that your parents were in attendance tonight.
Yes, they did come to see the game. I don't even know if I will have enough time to talk to them after the game. It's not that far to come here [from Pittsburgh]. They took a bus to come here with wives of some other players coming here to support us.
Will the next game be the most difficult for you? Do you expect Washington to gather everything they've got to throw against Pittsburgh?
We are playing [the next game] at home. We are going to gather everything as well. We wouldn't want to postpone everything until Game 7. I think the next game will be even more interesting and exciting than tonight's game, there will be a real battle. But the strongest team will win.
After the final whistle of the first period there was a little skirmish between the two teams. It looked like you and Ovechkin were pushing each other.
No, it definitely wasn't Ovechkin. I think he went to Talbot and they had a small skirmish. It so just happened that I was nearby.
It is difficult to say. But [I saw] on a replay that he hit [Gonchar] with his knee. It was a dangerous play. And that's why sometimes you just have to be a little... I don't know. It is a very difficult situation to discuss and give my opinion. But what happened has happened already. I hope Gonchar will recover very soon and will help us. I am just hoping for Sergei's quick recovery. And to Alex I would want to wish it wouldn't happen again.
No. He definitely won't play in the next game because the injury is not that light. The injury is more serious because the knee is probably the most important in a leg.
Did the team miss Gonchar tonight? Or it wasn't even noticeable because you still won?
Of course we missed him! Maybe with him in the lineup it wouldn't take overtime to win this game. But what's done is done. And maybe his injury gave us even more energy tonight.
Here is Sovietsky Sport's Dmitry Shumin's conversation with Capitals goalie Simeon Varlamov, who began by saying: "We were losing in the third period. But kudos to the guys who didn't give up and tied the game. There were a couple of stupid goals that went in [against us]."
VARLAMOV: I don't know, but I think that he was intentionally going crash [me] to take me out of the game.
Do you think he succeeded?
I think he didn't because I continued playing. I don't think he [psychologically] took me out of the game.
The goal in overtime looked a little stupid.
There was a pass going across the crease, it hit a defenseman stick and changed the direction. I agree that it was a stupid goal.
How do you feel about going to Pittsburgh having to win?
What can I say? We're not given anything else. We have only one chance to rectify the situation otherwise we will lose the series. We are going [to Pittsburgh] only to win.
You played three games in four days. How are you feeling?
To be honest I am kind of overwhelmed. I don't even understand what's going on.
And now you will have your fourth game in six days?
[Sarcastically] It is a good schedule. It fits me. I like it. You can't come up with something better.
What's it going to be like for you psychologically to play in Pittsburgh, when all the fans will be loud and rooting against your team?
Well, it's not for the first time that I will have to play in such an atmosphere. I just have to note that fans in Pittsburgh are great at cheering on their team and support their team really well. And, thus, [Pittsburgh] plays a little different at home compared to how they play away.
Your defense once again didn't help you out much, especially on the goal when the Penguins scored on the rebound. Do you tell them anything?
You have to talk to the coach about it. I cannot say anything about this. I cannot criticize our defense, because all the guys are trying. It's just sometimes it doesn't work out to react quickly to a rebound. But I think we will have to talk about this because we have to solve [this issue]. We have to make it right.
What's the plan for the next game? Forget this one and move on?
Yes, there is nothing else you can do in the playoffs when you play every other day. If you keep remembering your past mistakes, your past losses, it will be difficult to get ready for the next game, and play to 100 percent.