Hart finalists have nothing but respect for one another
LAS VEGAS -- Steven Stamkos' eyes lit up as he talked about Evgeni Malkin's incredible combination of skill and power. Likewise, Malkin got animated as he spoke about Stamkos' ability to get better year after year.
As for Henrik Lundqvist -- well, it's easy to tell how much respect he has for both of the forwards he's up against for the Hart Trophy at the 2012 NHL Awards show Wednesday at the Wynn Las Vegas.
The feeling of respect among the three finalists for the League's biggest individual award was on full display Tuesday during the media availability with the award finalists.
In their own words, here is how they all feel about each other:
Stamkos on Malkin
"He lit us up," Stamkos told NHL.com when asked about the Pittsburgh star and NHL scoring leader. "He lit everybody up, but I think he lit us up the most. It's not fun playing against him."
Malkin, the League's leader with 109 points this past season, did dominate Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning with 11 points on eight goals and three assists in four games. Stamkos, who also lit up the League with 60 goals, went on to say the challenge of facing Malkin is actually enjoyable -- but if he had his druthers, he would obviously prefer to not face him four times per season.
"When he's on his game he plays with that edge," Stamkos said. "He's so big and strong and he doesn't mind the physicality. That's what separates him apart from other players that are gifted offensive players. He wants the puck all the time and he'll go through a check or take a check to make a play."
Stamkos couldn't decide what Malkin's best attribute is, his size or his strength.
"I honestly can't say it's just one," Stamkos said. "There are a lot of players in the League that have the size but don't have the skill. There are a lot of guys that are smaller and have skill but can't get the job done like him because of his combination of both. If you have that, then you're looking at the best player in the world, and that's arguably what he is right now."
Stamkos on Lundqvist
"Sometimes he can get into your head," Stamkos said of Lundqvist, who had 39 wins, a 1.97 goals-against average and .930 save percentage for the New York Rangers this past season. "He can and that's why he's so successful, or at least that's part of it."
Stamkos said he talks to Lightning goalie coach Frantz Jean about most of the goalies he faces, but his ears perk up when the conversation turns to Lundqvist.
"You are obviously aware when you're playing any great player in the League, but when your job is to create offense, score goals, and you're playing the best goalie in the world you realize that even more," Stamkos said. "Obviously his athleticism allows him to be the goalie that he is, but he can get in your head so you try not to change your mindset coming in with certain areas of the ice, where you like to shoot from. But he definitely has my attention when we're playing against him and he can frustrate you for sure."
Lundqvist on Stamkos
"His release," were the first words out of Lundqvist's mouth when he was asked to describe what makes Stamkos so dangerous.
Stamkos' quick release is well-known throughout the League. He has arguably the best one-timer in the game right now. Lundqvist knows it well. Stamkos has scored six goals in 12 games against the Rangers during the past three seasons.
"You have so many guys that they skate fast and they can shoot hard, but the quickness of his release [stands out]," Lundqvist said. "And he's always in the right place. You can tell he wants to score all the time. As a goalie you have to respect that. You have to be on your toes all the time when you play against guys that have that ability."
Lundqvist on Malkin
"He's the whole package," Lundqvist said.
That's a hard statement to argue, considering Malkin had 50 goals and 59 assists this past season. He scored eight of his 109 points in six games against Lundqvist and the Rangers.
"I thought he was unbelievable this year, and we play against him a bunch so I get to see him," Lundqvist said. "It's always a challenge. I see him as one of the best in the game, and this year he was really, really good."
If it's Stamkos' release that sets him apart, then what is it about Malkin?
"Strength, and being able to make some great moves in close," Lundqvist said. "He can do so many different things. He can shoot, too, but a lot of times he likes to make a move instead of shooting. He can do it."
Malkin on Stamkos
"Every year he scores 50 goals and it's unbelievable," Malkin said. "Great, quick shot."
Malkin said what impresses him most about Stamkos is how he seems to get better on a year-to-year basis.
Stamkos had a rough rookie season with only 46 points, but he was the co-recipient with Sidney Crosby of the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2010 after scoring 51 goals. He was a finalist for the Ted Lindsay Award, given to the player voted as the League MVP by members of the NHLPA, last season after he had 91 points.
And, of course, Stamkos is a first-time finalist for the Hart Trophy after scoring 60 goals this season.
"I like him because every year he plays better and better," Malkin said. "He learns every year. He did not have a great first year, but after he started to work out he played unbelievable."
Malkin on Lundqvist
"He's got very big size and he's very quick," Malkin said.
Malkin also praised Lundqvist for being a genuinely good person, too.
"He's a great goalie," he added. "I like him."
But unlike Stamkos, Malkin said he doesn't worry about Lundqvist when he plays the Rangers. Lundqvist, Malkin said, is not in his head.
"I know he's always trying to see it and I try to shoot higher," Malkin said. "It's tough to score, but if I have chance to shoot I do. There's not a lot of time playing against Rangers defensemen."