With seven players competing in their first ever Stanley Cup Playoffs, the New York Rangers need a veteran presence in their lineup to ballast all the youthful nerves. Captain Chris
Drury’s playoff resume is supremely qualified, yet an injury-plagued season has kept his minutes in the single digits and relegated his leadership role to mostly locker room mentor. Vinny Prospal has playoff experience yet knee-surgery hampered his two-way play and coach John Tortorella has kept him off the penalty kill in favor of maximizing his knack around the opposition’s net. Ruslan Fedotenko, however, knows what it takes to win in the playoffs and can handle the big minutes and all situations making him an effective weapon as the Rangers look to regain ground in their series with the Caps.
The Ukrainian grinder signed with the Blueshirts in October and immediately impressed with a combination of gritty work along the boards and a few timely goals. Bringing along an established relationship with Tortorella from their time in Tampa Bay as well as two Stanley Cup rings (Lightning 2004 and Penguins 2009), Feds fit seamlessly into the defensively-sound, hard forechecking identity the Rangers have forged.
When Ryan Callahan was lost to an ankle injury during the final week of the regular season, Fedotenko jumped into the hole in Brandon Dubinsky’s second line and saw his penalty kill minutes increase as well when the playoffs began, earning the trust of his demanding coach. “He’s been good in the series. He does all the little things and he’s very underrated as far as his hitting, how stiff he is,” said Tortorella to the Journal News. “I’m looking for him in all situations.”
Despite not yet cracking into the scoresheet against Washington, Fedotenko made two key offensive zone plays to abet the Rangers victory at MSG on Sunday. After Alex Ovechkin tied the game at 1-1 with a late-period tip-in, Feds summoned the extra effort below the Caps’ goal line to outwork his man on the forecheck and pinball a puck past Michal Neuvirth just as the buzzer sounded. Unfortunately after a lengthy review, officials in Toronto deemed that the game score clock had timed out even though the television clock still registered 0.1 seconds. Even though it didn’t count, the play was a psychological score for a Ranger team that has struggled with confidence issues offensively, proving that they could in fact light the lamp on the hot Caps goalie.
Late in the third period–with the game again tied, and this time the Rangers in need of a legitimate goal–Fedotenko came up with another huge effort to spark his squad. While linemate Brandon Dubinsky battled in the corner with two Capitals, Feds cheated over to the scrum and engaged one of the young defenders in a stick jostle. The distraction, which was close to an NBA style pick, loosened up the lockdown on the puck and Dubinsky was able to muscle to the net before cutting out to the short side and jamming in a bouncy game winner.
The veteran presence is more often than not about intangibles in the playoffs yet the vitality can not be understated. Every team needs guys who have gotten the job done before to set an example of how hard a team needs to work to make a play, score a goal, kill a penalty or win a game–as a rookie or first time playoff player you just don’t know what your capabilities truly are: your potential is untested, and untapped. Like his coach noted, Ruslan Fedotenko is doing all the little things and as such the veteran is showing his young teammates the possibilities in the extra effort.
And the entire team will need to tap into that extra effort in order for the Rangers to tie this series up in Game 4 tonight at Madison Square Garden.