LAS VEGAS -- It was, on many levels, a historic night for Russians at the NHL awards show.
Pavel Datsyuk (Selke, Lady Byng), Evgeni Malkin (Art Ross) and Alex Ovechkin (Hart, Pearson) were big winners. And if you count the Conn Smythe Trophy and that big silver one they call the Stanley Cup, it's been a pretty good season for Mother Russia. And just in case you hadn't thought about it, those Russians look as if they might be able to ice a pretty decent hockey team in February at the Olympics.
Ovechkin insisted he and his fellow Russians weren't role models just to young Russian players but to players all over the hockey world.
"Not just Russian players, all young guys have to look to us and work like we are," Ovechkin said. "You don't wake up and [become a] superstar or good player. You have to work. You can see how Malkin works, how Datsyuk works. They're great players, and they're working hard."
As for his personal haul of hardware on the night -- most of which will end up in a glass case at his parents' home in Russia -- Ovechkin said he has his eyes on a bigger prize.
"It's pretty important when people and players give you this [recognition]. I don't want to stop," Ovechkin said. "I want to be the best again next year. I want to be in the same situation as Pittsburgh was. Personal stats is good, personal awards is good. I just want to win one award, and that's the Stanley Cup."
How about the idea that Ovechkin could be going after a double championship next year, Olympic gold and a Stanley Cup?
"Right now, I just want to vacation," Ovechkin said. "I don't want to think about Stanley Cup or something like that. I just want to go to the pool and little bit [of] dancing."
As for Malkin, he insisted he wasn't disappointed he lost out to countryman Ovechkin for the Hart Trophy.
"I'm not nervous I'm [a] young kid. I try win next year and after," Malkin said.
Plus, he added, "I have big trophy, so "
So, maybe it was staying at the blackjack table until 3 a.m. the night before, but not sure where my mind was when I went up to Roberto Luongo before Thursday's awards show and asked him about his Vezina Trophy nomination.
"I'm not nominated, Pierre," Luongo laughed.
Geez, not my finest journalistic moment. Just seems to me it should be automatic that Luongo gets a nomination every year.
"I was out for eight weeks with an injury, that hurt my chances," Luongo said. "But those guys had great seasons, they deserve it."
Tim Thomas was honestly stunned that he won Thursday night. I've rarely seen a guy so appreciative of an award at this annual event. He was clutching the Vezina Trophy in his media scrum like someone was going to come and take it away.
"I didn't allow myself to think I might win, first of all because of the names on the list -- Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur," said Thomas, who gave an emotional speech. "I was looking at the names on it today, and it's humbling because the guys that won it before are so good. It's hard to put yourself on that level in your head.
"Throughout my career, there were so many times when I got my hopes up and had them come crashing down behind me, so I guess it teaches you not to get your hopes up too high about individual awards. So maybe that's part of the reason I was a little bit unprepared when I won."
I asked Thomas about the irony that the league's 30 GMs voted him the Vezina winner, some of the same GMs who didn't bother plucking him from NHL waivers in the 2005-06 season when Boston sneaked him through.
"I'm very happy that I made it through waivers that time because maybe I wouldn't be here today," Thomas said. "It seems like I was meant to end up in Boston, and it's worked out great."
An emotional Julien
With tears in his eyes, Bruins coach Claude Julien talked about cancer-stricken Pat Burns presenting him the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year. Julien and Burns have had similar coaching journeys, both coaching the Hull Olympiques in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and coaching the Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins.
"Getting it from Pat was pretty special," said Julien, his eyes watery but his voice holding. "When I was coaching junior, I remember Pat coming between stints in coaching and coming to see me in Hull and having chats with him. He's been really supportive and good to me. You can inspire yourself from guys like that because he's been a battler as a coach and he's still battling today."
And Chara makes it three
Zdeno Chara completed the Bruins' awards hat trick with the coveted Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman, knocking six-time winner Nicklas Lidstrom off his perch.
Chara was asked about the names on that trophy, legends such as Doug Harvey, Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque, Paul Coffey and Lidstrom.
"What a group," said Chara, shaking his head. "I will still be recovering from this probably for the next couple of days. It's such an honor. All those names, they are huge icons who have done so much for hockey.
"They represent everything that the game is about. I don't know what to say. I'm so happy for myself and everybody who helped me. It's a great feeling to have proved people wrong."
The coaching curse?
Andy Murray, nominated for the Jack Adams Award, wasn't sure whether he should be envied or pitied. The trophy's winners traditionally have found that winning the hardware doesn't necessarily mean job security. Worse, Murray pointed out, he has the double whammy of taking his St. Louis Blues to Europe in October to start the 2009-10 regular season.
Last season, all four coaches who led the teams that went to Europe were fired before the end of the season.
"It's the double curse," said Murray, who lost out to Julien for the honor.
But seriously, Murray was of course thrilled to be honored as his Blues came out of nowhere to finish as the sixth seed in the Western Conference.
"It's recognition of our team," Murray said. "This award is more team-oriented than any of the other awards."
The Blues are looking to the coming season with optimism as they essentially will get three new players in their lineup -- Paul Kariya, Eric Brewer and Erik Johnson, all of whom missed significant time to injury this past season.
Johnson's absence, of course, was most vexing, given that he injured his knee on a team golf outing before the start of training camp. Murray said that he's been in contact with Johnson and that the defenseman is in great shape physically. "He's not golfing anymore," Murray quipped.
The Blues also likely will have veteran forward Keith Tkachuk back, as the team tendered an offer to the potential free agent several days ago. Murray is optimistic a deal will get done.
We hardly recognized Stanley Cup finals hero Maxime Talbot, who scored both goals in the Pittsburgh Penguins' 2-1 victory over Detroit in Game 7 less than a week ago. Gone is the bushy playoff beard. Still present, though, is the perpetual grin. Winning a Cup will do that for you.
On Thursday, Talbot, Hart Trophy nominee and playoff MVP Malkin, and Penguins coach Dan Bylsma delivered the Cup to the awards.
"For sure, it's life-changing for all of us," Talbot said.
Notable for his absence was Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby. Not nominated for a major award (he was nominated for Mark Messier's leadership award), Crosby chose to take some time away from the game and Stanley Cup duties for a mini-vacation and did not attend the awards ceremony. He also wasn't expected to attend the players meetings in Las Vegas on Friday and Saturday.
Still, not everyone was thrilled to watch the Cup finals. Mike Green's Capitals were knocked out by the Penguins in a memorable second-round series.
"I couldn't even watch it," Green said. "It was tough. But it is what it is. We're hungry for next year."
Luongo said he tuned in for "the last 10 minutes of Game 7."
"That was the only playoff hockey I watched after we were out," Luongo said. "It's tough to watch. But at the same time, moments like that are why you love the game."
You think watching it was hard? Try playing in it and losing.
"It's still on my mind," Red Wings captain Lidstrom said Thursday. "But you look back at our season, we had a strong year and just came up short. But knowing how close we were, it still stings."
-- Burnside and LeBrun
We always find it interesting to see who finished fourth in voting for the awards -- in other words, just outside of nomination. Here are the fourth-place players for the major awards:
• Vezina: Roberto Luongo. He finished only one point behind third-place Niklas Backstrom of Minnesota in the voting.
• Norris: Shea Weber. Happy that he got this much attention; he was fourth on my ballot, as well. Next year, he'll be top three.
• Jack Adams: Ken Hitchcock. A perennial contender, he finished 27 points behind third-place finisher Todd McLellan.
• Calder: Pekka Rinne. It was very close for third place in voting between Kris Versteeg (323 points), Rinne (319) and my boy Drew Doughty (303). Mason ran away with it -- and rightfully so -- with 1,268 points, followed by Bobby Ryan at 829 points.
Same ol' situation
We recall chatting with netminder Manny Fernandez at the 2007 Stanley Cup finals when he was honored along with then-teammate Niklas Backstrom with the William Jennings Trophy for the lowest goals-against average in the league. Fernandez was on his way out of Minnesota, and his future was uncertain.
Fast-forward to this year's awards ceremony and Fernandez is in much the same position, as he will once again be looking for work in the fall. Although he and teammate Thomas shared the Jennings this season, Fernandez doesn't fit into the Bruins' long-term plans, even though he turned in a fine 16-8-3 record with a .910 save percentage and 2.59 GAA. Youngster Tuukka Rask will get some playing time behind Vezina Trophy winner Thomas next season.
Fernandez, who battled back and knee injuries that limited his play in the 2007-08 season, told ESPN.com he'd like to stay in Boston but will see what happens once the free-agency period begins July 1.
Although he had to have injections for his back during the season, Fernandez said he's feeling great and is positive he can come back and play -- somewhere.
"Maybe I get a few phone calls that I want to answer," Fernandez said. "My future is uncertain, to say the least."
No respect for Lady Byng
Of all the awards, the Lady Byng probably suffers from the lowest profile. We recall when Alexander Mogilny, disdainful of his nomination for the Lady Byng, emphatically insisted he wouldn't attend the awards ceremony for that particular piece of hardware.
Datsyuk won for the fourth straight year, once again besting Martin St. Louis, who could not recall whether this was his third or fourth nomination for the Byng (it was his fourth).
Speaking of St. Louis, the heart and soul of the Tampa Bay Lightning once again was part of Canada's effort at the world championship this spring, and here's hoping his dedication to the Canadian cause earns him at least an invite to the Canadian Olympic orientation camp in Calgary in August.
The best line
We asked Wings star Pavel Datsyuk about the chances of Detroit re-signing Marian Hossa, and he turned to me without hesitation, "I'm not [GM] Ken Holland. Ask him."
Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun cover the NHL for ESPN.com.