"He's a good team player and really does care. I know he's battled through injuries and still plays and he's a very noticeable. I think, in the playoffs, his play elevates. It's not the amount of goals that a player scores sometimes, but when a goal is scored that becomes a factor in the game -- Ruslan Fedotenko comes up with those goals."
-- Bill Barber
Here's a hint -- It's the same player who has connected for eight goals in 11 career games in which his team can clinch a playoff series.
He's Ruslan Fedotenko, who apparently enjoys making a living out of coming through in the clutch. He did it with the Lightning and he's doing it again alongside linemate Evgeni Malkin in his first season with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Fedotenko has produced six goals and 11 points in 17 postseason games this spring. Two of his goals have come in series-clinching victories, including Game 6 against the Flyers at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia and Game 4 against the Carolina Hurricanes at RBC Center in Raleigh.
He now hopes to contribute in the Stanley Cup Final that begins Saturday at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS) against the defending champion Red Wings.
"I feel like we have as good, if not an even better team, here than we did in Tampa," Fedotenko told NHL.com. "It's hard to compare but I feel on this team, there's more experience than what we had in Tampa that year. In Tampa we had young players and a few who had a lot of playoff experience. This Pittsburgh team has just about everyone back who went through the grind last season and they know what's at stake and what it takes."
As does Fedotenko, who continues to contribute in a big way with far less fanfare and notoriety than teammates Sidney Crosby and Malkin. Still, Fedotenko can point to several areas on that '94 Lightning team that are certainly taking shape for the '09 Penguins.
"We had a great chemistry, a great goalie and a great group of guys committed to each other and that's why I believe we won (with the Lightning)," Fedotenko said.
Despite going undrafted, the 30-year-old native of Kiev, Ukraine, eventually signed a free-agent contract with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1999 and made his NHL debut in October of the following season. It was in Philadelphia where Fedotenko would receive the mentoring needed to become the impact player he is today.
"I had a great coach in Philly in Bill Barber," Fedotenko admitted. "He helped me become the player I am right now. He always told me to play more physical and aggressive. He saw potential in me at a time when they referred to my style of play as 'European hockey'. But I learned to enjoy the North American game; I like the physical side as well and I enjoy hitting people as much as I enjoy getting hit."
At last count, Fedotenko was fourth on his team with 45 hits in the postseason. He finished seventh on the team with 99 body checks in 65 regular-season games.
"(Barber) told me to stick with it, go to the net and play physical," he said. "So I felt that was a great learning process in my three professional seasons with the Flyers."
Barber isn't surprised with Fedotenko's professionalism and tremendous ability in pressure moments on the ice.
"The biggest commitment of all is when a European player leaves his country and then comes over here and sacrifices everything to become an NHL player," Barber told NHL.com. "That's so important and Rusty did that. He had a chance to play and turn pro and made the best of it but his commitment at a young age, to come over here, is what really caught my eye at first."
Once Barber realized he had a player committed to do whatever it took to be successful, that's when Fedotenko's natural instincts took over.
"He worked hard in practice and asked the questions that were needed to be asked if there was confusion and he could deal with the pressure," Barber said. "That was evident after Tampa traded for him (in 2002). All you need to do is look at Game 7 in the Cup Final and see how he was the guy scoring both goals. He comes up with big goals at the right time and only players who make themselves accountable and can handle pressure are able to do that."
Often overlooked is the fact Fedotenko possesses one heck of a wrist shot -- not only the best in his arsenal but one of the finest on the Pens roster.
"I've always tried to use the wrist shot more than the snap shot because I feel it's harder for the goalie to see it," Fedotenko said. "The snap shot still can come out hard and quick, but the goalie knows where the blade is facing and where the puck is going to go. As a kid, I always worked on my shooting and as I got older, all my coaches said to forget about a slap shot or snap shot because it takes too much time. I was told to always use my wrist shot since it can be taken from any position and with accuracy."
This postseason, Barber has watched with great pride as his protégé continues to make his postseason mark.
"He's a good team player and really does care," Barber said. "I know he's battled through injuries and still plays and he's a very noticeable. I think, in the playoffs, his play elevates. It's not the amount of goals that a player scores sometimes, but when a goal is scored that becomes a factor in the game -- Ruslan Fedotenko comes up with those goals."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com