Chatting with Alex Semin: ‘We have to take our revenge in playoffs’

Besides the play of Jaroslav Halak, two things that killed the Washington Capitals in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens were a lack of secondary scoring and an ineffective power play. Many fingers were pointed at winger Alexander Semin, who didn't score a goal in seven games and didn't have a power-play point, despite 44 shots on goal for the series.

Does it frustrate him when he's branded a non-playoff performer?

"I don't pay any attention to that," he told me this week. "As for last year, what more could I have done? I was just unlucky. And their goaltender played really well. I just couldn't score for some reason. I just need to not think about it and just play my game."

Here's Alex Semin, previewing the Capitals' first-round series against the New York Rangers and on their chances in this postseason.

Q. Before the final games of the season where everything became clear, did you have a preference of who to play — the Rangers or the Hurricanes?

SEMIN: We didn't really have a preference as a team. It was just a matter of whoever wins will play us. It's not like we had a choice. Both the Hurricanes and the Rangers are good, strong teams, they both have very strong goalies. It's just we didn't have a lot of success against the Rangers this season losing a couple of games 7-0 and 6-0. But the playoffs is a completely different game.

It is a different game. But somewhere on the back of your minds those 7-0 are still fresh.

Yes. But we just have to take our revenge in the playoffs and everything is going to be alright.

Do you remember the series against the Rangers two years ago where only Sergei Fedorov's goal in Game 7 took you through to the next round?  Do you expect the series to be as tough?

Well, right now hockey is different. Look at all of the playoff pairs. There won't be any easy games for any of the teams in all of those series. I don't think there is any team in the playoffs this year that will have an easy pass in the first round.

The Rangers are a hard-working team, they often simply outwork their opponents. Are the Capitals ready for this sort of series?

Once again, it's not like we were choosing. If we got the Rangers, that means we will play the Rangers. We will come out and play our game.

Are the Rangers a different team in terms of style from the one you faced two years ago?

I don't even know. But we are also a different team now.

Do you think the loss of Callahan will reflect on how the Rangers will play?

They played the last few games without a couple of their guys. I don't think they will approach this series with the thought of playing a close defensive game. Of course it is possible that they will change their tactics, but the Rangers is not a close-style team. They play offensive, open hockey.

When you remember the series against the Rangers in 2009, how much do you think you personally changed as a player since then?

If you are talking about the playoffs only, back then we played on the edge, if you can say that. Back then we could have just picked up the puck and race forward with it. We're playing different now. Now we have to have a 100-percent thought-out plan. Every move has to be thought out, we all need to know where and how we will skate. Don't do an extra deke, don't lose the puck in the neutral zone. We need to move the game to the neutral zone and then press the opponent from there.

For you personally the playoffs are not the best of memories.

Nothing happens right away. We had to go through these things. We could have won before, but it hasn't happened yet. We learn every time we play. I think this time it is going to be a lot better. We really do have a good team.

What are the playoffs for you personally: the best part of the season, or additional pressure?

The regular season is the regular season, you know that. But when the playoffs start, these knock-out games, this is where it gets really interesting [Semin said with a lot of excitement in his voice]. Hockey is so much different, you have so much adrenaline pumping through your body. It's very exciting. The playoffs is the best part of the season by far.

The Capitals had quite a season — from being in the worst slump in years to finishing the first in the Conference.

That slump is something none of us will be able to explain to you. I just don't know what happened. It's good that we were able to pull ourselves from it and the season ended very well for us.

I believe you won 15 out of the last 17 games to close out the regular season. Do you think the Capitals are objectively the best team in the East?

It doesn't really mean much that we won the Conference when you think about the playoffs. We won the League title last year, and did it do us any good?  We were beat in the first round. You can't really think of yourself as the best team in the East. The best teams are all 8 that made the playoffs. They are all equally the best because they all earned their chance to play in the playoffs. Any one of these teams can win and lose.

You played against Henrik Lundqvist quite often. What can you say about his style?  What are the positives for you as a forward?

He has good instincts, great reaction. He plays in goal a lot, I mean that he doesn't come out of the crease often. We just need to put in a lot of shots on him. But he is a very good goaltender. Didn't he have the most shutouts this season? He is a class goalie.

Do you know who your linesmates will be in the first round?

I am not sure. But right now I am playing with Arnott and Sturm. We'll see. But I'd like to keep playing with these guys so we can develop more chemistry. It's already quite good as we know each other quite well by now.

A couple of years ago when we did an interview you told me that your father, who is also a hockey coach, is one of your biggest critics. Is this still the case?

He gives me advice, he points out where I make mistakes, what I should work on. I am not a little boy anymore. He just gives me advice.

It seems that you never take any criticism the wrong way and try to turn it into a positive, like when Jason Arnott called you out, you said he was just giving you a good advice.

I actually think it is a good thing that people tell me what I should work on, give me advice. I think that if I was not getting that it would be worse. If I get advice that means that I can play hockey. If I stop hearing advices from people around me, that means this is it.

A lot of fans consider you one of the most frustrating players: one second you can get their heads spinning with a move and an unbelievable goal, and the next you pick up a stupid penalty.

I agree that I pick up a few penalties. These are just pure emotions. It's not like I pick up these penalties on purpose. This is a game and everything happens so fast. You may do something and only then think about it. There are different moments in life. I try not to repeat my mistakes again. And if you head to the penalty box, you can't get it back. You have to understand that there are a lot of emotions in hockey. I try to be more careful and mindful.

Last year you lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs because you couldn't adapt to their style of play when they could. Did the Capitals learn from that?  Will you be able to change your game if needed?

I think everything will depend on us. It will depend on the way we take the game to the Rangers. I believe that if we play our game everything will be good for us. Of course there are moments when you have to adapt, and we do that. We have to do that to take control of the situation and steer it back in the direction we want it to go. We have to play the game the way we play the game, so that it will be difficult for our opponent.

Every year you play seven-game series. How important is it for the Capitals to have a short series against the Rangers?

I think it is pretty clear that we have to make this series as short as possible. The playoffs are long, and every day of rest we can get will only be for the better. But the main goal is to win the Stanley Cup. And it doesn't really matter how we do it, as long as we do it. Of course you want every series to be 4:0. But the ultimate goal is still to win the Cup.

Who of the injured players the team misses the most now before the playoffs?

Greenie, of course. And Wideman. They are our two leading defensemen. But what can you do?  Hockey is such a game that you have to play with the guys who are ready. I spoke with Greenie and he said he will be back soon.

Mike Green had a playoff Mohawk a few years ago. A lot of players grow beards. Will you do something like special like that this year?

No, I don't think so. I am just a different person. I am who I am. Besides, I can't even grow a beard!

How about this: Let's make a bet — you will shave your head if you win the Cup.

[Laughing] No. I am just going to be extremely happy if we win the Cup. All my friends and family will be very happy, and that's the most important thing. But let's not even talk about it. First, we have to win the Cup!

Do you believe in superstitions?  Every year the team that won the Winter Classic made it to the Stanley Cup Finals only to lose. Did you hear about that?

Actually, I have never heard about that. Let's see what happens. You have to make it to the Finals first and then we'll think about breaking this tradition.


Finally, here's is a memorable moment for Semin during the Washington Capitals' fan appreciation night:

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