ST. LOUIS -- He's one of the up-and-coming prolific scorers in the NHL, one who led the Blues during the regular season (40 goals) and produced regularly in the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in helping the Blues defeat the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars.
Vladimir Tarasenko, 24, the team's highest paid player who received a franchise-record eight-year, $60 million contract in the summer of 2015, was bottled up in the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks until the waning minutes of Game 6 when he scored twice in a game that had already sealed the Blues' fate.
He finished the playoffs tied with Robby Fabbri for the team lead in points (15) in 20 games and helped the Blues to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2001 and drew attention by not speaking to reporters the day players cleaned out their lockers.
|Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko|
But Tarasenko, before heading off for the summer with his family, including a newborn son, came in and spoke to a large media throng on the day the Blues announced the one-year extension for coach Ken Hitchcock and addressed everything from the playoffs, the disappointment of losing, being held in check, his relationship with the organization and everything in between in the puristic of Russian accents and no help from an interpreter:
A brief opening statement:
I just wanted to say (during Saturday locker cleanout day), I wasn't ready to talk. I was too frustrated, too upset, too pissed off about our loss. I just don't want to give you guys hard time to talk with me because I was so mad. I'm ready to talk now.
How would you describe your feelings, especially after the last round of the playoffs?
Sad probably. More days you don't play hockey, the more you recognize how close you were to Stanley Cup Final. It's a bad experience, but it's still an experience for us. A lot of guys from our team never been there, never been this far in the playoffs. It's good to have this experience in your life because you know now what it takes to go this deep and gives you a chance to prepare better and go deeper next time.
What did you find different personally about the third round after having so much success in the first two rounds?
I can't tell you team struggled offensively. We had a couple good games when we score a lot of goals. Every team play different. San Jose play a really good round. Like I said, it's really bad experience for us, but at same time, it's good experience. We know what we need to change to play better next time.
Your thoughts on continuing forward with Hitchcock as coach:
Except that we didn't win Cup last four years, it was really good four years for our team, I think. It's all because of (the way) our team has played and coaches have coached. We have a great coach, we have great coaches for these four years. Ken was our head coach and I think every guy enjoyed to work with him. He has a lot of experience and he give it to us. It doesn't have a price. You need to just talk with him a couple times and you can find out so many new stuff. He helped us a lot and we're looking forward for next successful year.
What was biggest thing you learned about going this deep into the playoffs?
It's two rounds ... like we played 14 games and round three is still fast. You think people's going to be tired but everybody ... like every morning you wake up, you don't even feel tired because you so pumped up about next game. You're not pressured and help other players play against you. You can't show frustration. You need to focus on every shift as just try to help your team as much as you can. It doesn't matter what it takes, score a goal, don't score a goal, whatever. Everybody have a role. So if you can't help with scoring goals, you need to help with something else, help with the checking, with the defensive side or whatever. I think most important part for me in the playoffs, every player needs to take what coach tells him to do. So it can be different thing than what you usually not do, but if you need to do this to give the team a win, you need to do this.
In what ways does Hitchcock make you an even better player than you could be?
It's completely different country, first of all, completely different league, different hockey, different everything. He help me not only with stuff on the ice, he help me off ice too. He talk with me a lot and he give a lot of stuff about NHL and about Olympics and now World Cup. He's been there and it's really important for me to have this information because it help me a lot.
Can you respond and address to report in Canada that there was a problem between you and the organization?
Me and who?
You and the coach; you and the organization; that's what it said, that there was a problem:
What is organization? Like everybody else?
The Blues and you:
It's never been even talking about it. Like, we have really good relationships and (laughs) ... media just (likes) to talk. They have to do little stuff why it's happen. They start to talking about it big. They talking about problem between me and Blues. Now it's never been a problem. If there is going to be problems, I would not sign for eight years.
Have you ever experienced a goal scoring drought like that where it's so difficult to generate offense for you personally, never seeing you go through something like that since you've gotten here? How difficult was that for you to deal with personally throughout the series?
I don't tell I was frustrated. Like of course I was little bit mad. For example, I don't score Game 1 and we (won). I don't score Game 2 and we (lost). Then we lost Game 3 and then we won Game 4. Now it's no time to frustration. If you don't score and your team win, it's mean like everybody help. So it's been a help, too, but now I have a lot of time to think about my game and look in the shifts and find out what's wrong. But when your team winning, you don't even think about your points. It's nothing better than when you come in locker room after hard game, even if you score or not score and you see these happy faces around you, you know it's your friends and they are really happy. You can't be thinking about something else.
What did the Sharks do to take you out?
I need time to take a look at shifts, but my feeling is they play really tight and they check so hard. Just experience. It was frustrated for me. I wish I can do better. I supposed to do better and everyone can do better. Now we have time to reorganize and bring our experience for a long run next year.
Some of the players talked about what they need to do this summer to get to that next level. What do you need to do, whether training, conditioning to improve yourself for next season?
I think first of all, I need vacation (smiles). Then I'm go to my hometown and see my parents and grandparents and them (to see) their grandson, our son. It gives you even more when you practice in the gym every day but this emotions give you bump. I'm going to start doing usually what I do every summer, but even more. I have some areas in my game what I want to improve, so I have stuff to work on. It's really good feeling before summer when you know what you working on and then you can see results after. I'm just looking forward for really hard-working summer and looking forward for playing better next year.
Can you appreciate what you mean to this community, to this team and with your contract and the responsibilities that go far beyond the ice?
What do you mean.
Do you get a sense that you are the face of this organization, that it means more than just scoring goals? Does it to you or does it not?
I always want to be not only the guy who just score goals and everything else is like not really good. I always try to be, like, not about player but complete guy in life. Even here, you go somewhere. Even after we lost, you go grocery store and you know you can feel people's not mad on you. They told you it's unbelievable year and they support you. And then you recognize how important all the guys and myself are for this city, for these fans. You just want to play better next time and to not embarrass them anymore. I know what are you asking me. I can feel it, but I'm not thinking about it because if you start thinking, then it's going to bother you. This is extra pressure. You just need to go on ice and do your stuff, be nice with you guys, the media guys ...
Do you regret not speaking when everybody else spoke?
You know, what's mean regret?
Do you feel bad for not speaking?
I would feel (not) more better if I go in and speak and say something wrong because of my, I don't know how to say it, because of my madness and all this frustration after playoffs. So like I said before guys, if I have chance to wait a little bit and put my mind together and make a good talk with you, a good conversation. I would like to do more than I go in and say something bad and then you talk about it for next three months.
You were only two games away from the final. How excited are you about the future and where this team is headed?
I think it give us more (pride) in ourselves and now we know we can go this deep. We know we can (beat) good teams. It's tough now because everywhere it's Penguins-Sharks pictures in Stanley Cup Final and now I feel even more how close we are it was to Stanley Cup Final and it just give you more expectations from the team next year and we just want to be there every year, even deeper. And we want to win the Cup. That's what we are playing for.