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Varlamov wise beyond his years

by John McGourty
Simeon Varlamov speaks!

The Russian rookie who was so sensational in the final six games of the Washington Capitals' seven-game victory over the New York Rangers has limited English ability -- but he was able to conduct a news conference after practice Thursday with the aid of Russian Sport-Express journalist Slava Malamud.

Though he's all of 21 -- his birthday was Monday -- Varlamov is no playoff novice. He led Lokomotiv Yaroslavl to the final last year in Russia before coming to North America.

"I wouldn't say it's drastically different," he said in comparing the attention surrounding the Russian League playoffs and this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs. "We made the final last year and there was a lot of media attention during the final, TV discussions about it all the time. There's a little more attention. The one difference is, at least last year, I'm not sure how it is now, but the media wasn't allowed in the locker room after the games. So there is some additional pressure in that respect."

Varlamov was too caught up in the Rangers series to give his milestone birthday a lot of thought. He's had a head-spinning season with a handful of memorable accomplishments. He became the first goalie to win his NHL debut in Montreal, on Dec. 13, since Hardy Astrom did it in 1978. He was the first Capitals' goalie to win his first three NHL starts since Jim Carey went 4-0-0 in 1994-95, and he is the youngest Russian goalie to play in the NHL.

Compared with all that, turning 21 wasn't necessarily a big deal.

"I couldn't afford to and really didn't want to because I couldn't afford to throw any kind of American-style birthday party because I didn't have the time," Varlamov said. "And I didn't want to do anything to throw myself off, so no, I didn't do anything special."

Varlamov likely won't be much help in advising his teammates about how to defend fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin. He never played against Malkin -- although they were teammates on the Russian team at the 2005 and 2006 World Junior Championships. Varlamov played again in the 2007 World Junior Championship, losing to Canada both times in the final. He was the backup in 2005 and 2006 and then had the second-best GAA (1.51) to gold-medal winner Carey Price, now with the Montreal Canadiens.

"I never played against him, but I played with him at the World Junior Championships," Varlamov said of the NHL regular-season scoring leader. "That's the only time we met and we won the silver medal."

Varlamov is showing signs of a playoff beard and said it's not his first -- he grew one last year, so the trend has spread to Russia.

Varlamov played most of this season with the Hershey Bears, the Capitals' AHL affiliate, and came up for six games late in the season, going 4-0-1. He was told that is similar to the experience of Patrick Roy and Ken Dryden, two of the game's greats. Varlamov replaced Jose Theodore in Game 2 against the Rangers and has been very Dryden-like in posting a 4-2 record with a 1.17 GAA and .952 save percentage. He was asked about the parallels.

"I don't make comparisons. That's you guys' jobs," he said. "I'm aware of those players."

Varlamov was asked who his Russian goaltending heroes were while growing. Ilya Bryzgalov was the national team goalie for most of his teen years, but he wasn't Varlamov's top pick.

"Actually, it's Nikolai Khabibulin," Varlamov said. "He was the first Russian goalie to win the Stanley Cup, the first to go all the way. I consider him the most accomplished Russian goalie, among the modern goalies."

He was asked if he feels better now that he has won a Stanley Cup Playoff series, Varlamov, who appears to have a world-weary cynical side, responded, "I certainly feel a sense of relief but we have a Russian expression that a mountain has fallen off my shoulders and now a bigger mountain has landed on them."

Varlamov is very fussy about the spelling and pronunciation of his first and last names and isn't pleased with the translations of either from the Cyrillic to Roman alphabets. He had previously instructed beat writers that his last name is pronounced "var-LAH-mov." Today, he explained that his first name is pronounced "Semi-yawn."

Washington Capitals Playoff GearVarlamov learned to skate when he was 8 years old and soon after wanted to be a goalie. He's never played another position in organized hockey.

"The first two months, I was just learning to skate. Then I fell in love with the goalie equipment and that's how I became a goalie," he said.

He said there is no chance his parents will be able to come over for the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- but they are following the postseason closely.

"Strange as it sounds, we do own TVs in Russia and they get up at 3 a.m. to watch the games," Varlamov said.

They actually won't have to stay up that late to see their son in the series opener -- the 1 p.m. ET start puts the game in prime time in Russia. After that, it's back to getting up early, something they won't mind doing for a few more weeks if their son can keep on winning.



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