Before Game 7 between the Capitals and Rangers, Washington's Alex Ovechkin arguably gave the New York all the bulletin board material they could ever need when he said the Capitals were going to win the series. Well, Washington lost and Ovechkin left to join Russia at the World Championships. Sadly for Ovechkin, he's heading right into another matchup with some pre-game fuel for the opponents.
Following Russia's 5-3 quarterfinal victory over Sweden at the World Championships, reporters caught up with Russian winger Artemi Panarin, who dropped the quote of the tournament, saying that his club was more than ready for their semi-final game against Team USA.
"We're in a fighting mood to play the Americans," Panarin said. "We need to teach those college kids a lesson."
When it comes to Ovechkin's guarantee or Panarin's smack talk, we give the nod to Panarin. Those are fighting words.
The easy response from any of the American players would be, "Panarin, who?" but they're about to find out in the semi-final. The 23-year-old forward, who had a breakout year in the KHL and has parlayed that into five goals and 10 points in eight games at the Worlds, is tied for ninth in scoring at the tournament and a mere three points off the scoring lead. He's been a terror for opponents all tournament and, after being held pointless against Sweden, he seems ripe for a big game.
Panarin recently made headlines when he decided to sign a deal in North America, inking a two-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks that contains an out-clause should he not make the big club next season. With his play of late, though, it seems a near certainty that Chicago will be able to find a place for the skilled winger in their lineup, especially with the salary cap crunch they're facing next season.
In 54 games in the KHL last season, Panarin notched 26 goals and 62 points with SKA St. Petersburg.
The semi-final matchup between Russia and USA kicks off Saturday at 1 p.m. ET.