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Pens-Caps: A tale of two Russians

by Slava Malamud /
PITTSBURGH -- It would be quite a challenge to find a happier person inside the Pittsburgh dressing room after Game 5 than Vladimir Malkin. The father of the Pens' Russian superstar, a beer in his hand and an expression of pure joy on his face, was practically emanating relief. "It's easier for my wife," Malkin Sr. said. "She's a calmer person than I am. But watching your kid play in a game like this is just so hard. I've been going to his games ever since he was five and it just doesn't get easier."

His son Evgeni, the overtime goal-scoring hero whose game taking a 180-degree turn for the better is a huge reason for the Pens' winning streak, had just emerged from the trainer's room. Evgeni apparently takes to his mom in the nerves and temper department, since he met Vladimir with a wink, a smile and an exclamation: "Dad, just tell me who let you in here!" His post-game comments, to the American and the Russian media likewise, were also calm and thoughtful.

"Thank God, I was able to get in shape mentally and find my game," said Malkin in Russian. "I started playing a bit differently, the coaches changed my line, and everything just started going well. Hopefully, this is how it will continue."

Evgeni did acknowledge problems in his game early in the series, when he was heavily criticized for not contributing enough offensively.

"In the first two games I was trying to be careful and didn't shoot or attack enough," Malkin said. "But [the coaches] said that should anything happen there will be someone to cover for me. So I started holding the puck more, shooting more often, taking the body. I got the excitement back!"

Mental preparedness, Evgeni added, is also there for him -- something that was lacking early in the series.

"Early on, maybe I didn't get myself fired up for the games," he said. "I thought, I would get by without it, but it turned out pretty bad. So I got a bit lost, naturally. My parents have helped me too. Maybe, they bring me luck. It is always great to have them close."

As both Malkins were celebrating the Pens' first lead in the series, over in the home team's dressing room the mood was predictably different. Caps' goaltender Simeon Varlamov, always an amiable and talkative young man, looked exhausted and profoundly unhappy with the last goal.

"Yes, it's a great schedule," Varlamov said sarcastically, referring to the difficulty of playing three playoff games in four nights. "Just what I need! … To be honest, it messes you up a bit. [It's to the point where] I don't know what's going on with me now.

"The guys did a great job tying the game up. But there were some silly goals that got in [for Pittsburgh]," added Varlamov, also saying that "winners make their own luck."

Varlamov, however, didn't like the way Sidney Crosby collided with him in overtime, shortly before the goal. (Crosby ran over Varlamov on a break-in; his shot missed the net.)

"I wasn't injured on the play," he said, "but I think he collided with me on purpose, in order to get me out of the game… But I continued to play, so he obviously wasn't successful at that."

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