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Russians in Caps-Pens series go separate ways

Thursday, 05.14.2009 / 12:03 AM / Conference Semifinals: Washington vs. Pittsburgh

By Slava Malamud - Special to NHL.com

"This was a very difficult opponent, a stronger team than Philadelphia and we are happy we got past them. But I don't feel any special anger when we play [Washington]. It's a good team, there are our Russian guys there. They are our friends. How can I be angry or hateful towards it?."
-- Evgeni Malkin

As the NHL's (and Russia's) dream series came to a rather anticlimactic end, the Russian stars are going their separate ways -- some ecstatic, some dejected, some fatalistic and some hopeful.

It's on to the Conference Finals for Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar, away to his country house near Moscow for Alex Ovechkin, into the doctor's hands for Alex Semin and what he said was a broken foot. As for rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov, he will have to wait until Friday to find out whether it's the Motherland or Hershey, Pa., that is next on his itinerary.

Over in the happy dressing room, Malkin, who was fully aware of the fact that his native country was for the most part rooting against his team, admitted this series was very different from the rest.

"Obviously, the media has hyped this up a lot and we hope that the fans enjoyed the series," Malkin said after the game. "This was a very difficult opponent, a stronger team than Philadelphia and we are happy we got past them. But I don't feel any special anger when we play [Washington]. It's a good team, there are our Russian guys there. They are our friends. How can I be angry or hateful towards it?"

Malkin brushed aside any notion of jealousy to Ovechkin and the Caps for their popularity in Russia.

"The fans pay attention to those who play better," he said. "I am very happy that I was drafted by Pittsburgh, we got to play in the Final last year and are past the second round now, so I am not complaining."

Ovechkin apologized to Gonchar during the post-game handshake and went to great lengths to explain to him that he didn't mean to hit him with the knee. Malkin was understanding of his compatriot.

"Obviously, nobody is trying to injure someone on purpose," Malkin said. "These things happen accidentally. But you probably should play a bit more careful in the situations like this."

Varlamov, standing all alone in the hallway after his teammates finished talking to the media, expressed deep disappointment on picking the worst possible time to have a bad game.

"You could say the second goal was on me," Varlamov said. "I wasn't quick enough to go down and it went into the five-hole. Goals like that are, shall we say, unconvincing… It's disappointing that I lost my game at a time like this."

Varlamov said he had no issue with being pulled in the second period.

"When a team allows four goals in 23 minutes, the goalie should be changed," he said. "I think, [the coach] made the right decision. The game wasn't going well, the guys were getting frustrated, we needed a shake-up."

Also, in a bit of a departure from the Washington-Russian-player tradition, Simeon had nothing but glowing praise for the Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.

"I understand now what a power he is," Varlamov said. "How many did he score against us? Eight goals? He told me after the game: "You are all right, you are a great goalie", all that stuff. ... He plays extremely well in the crease, reacts to the rebounds very quickly and always knows where the puck will bounce. His hands are great, his thinking is great… He is a wonderful player, what can I say."

Slava Malamud is a U.S.-based correspondent who writes about the NHL for Sport Express, Russia's leading sports newspaper.
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