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Late-season scratches a wakeup call for Fedotenko

By Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Late-season scratches a wakeup call for Fedotenko
Being a healthy scratch for a couple of late-season games has helped Ruslan Fedotenko rank up his game for the playoffs.

Ruslan Fedotenko is not just the most-experienced Ranger when it comes to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Entering the postseason, his 88 playoff games were more than the combined total of the 13 least-experienced players on the roster.

On a team loaded with playoff grasshoppers, Fedotenko is the master.

The 33-year-old has become a fixture on the Rangers' checking line, which is partly responsible for holding down the top line of the Ottawa Senators in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. Fedotenko possesses two Stanley Cup rings -- one he earned with the Lightning with current Rangers coach John Tortorella behind the bench in Tampa.

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Despite that relationship and an abundance of that rare commodity on this year's Rangers team -- experience -- Fedotenko received a message in mid-March from Tortorella when he was a healthy scratch for two consecutive games.

It was a wake-up call for Fedotenko, who wasn't producing offensively the way the Rangers needed.

"I think it's definitely helped. Since then, I feel like I've played much better," Fedotenko said. "I think was more sit back and kind of look at what I didn't do, and I feel like in my mind, I was a little too conservative. I was focused on my defensive priority too much and not really offensively at all. I sat back and looked at the videos. From the outside, it's a little easier to evaluate. In the game, you feel like you're working hard, doing all the right things. But you're not accomplishing what you want to do."

In his second game after the benching, Fedotenko scored the winner against the Minnesota Wild. He had a goal and three assists in his final seven games of the regular season and has carried that momentum into the postseason.

Fedotenko raising his game in the postseason is nothing new from Tortorella's perspective.

"He's done it last year and the beginning of this year," Tortorella said. "He did it for me in Tampa. To me, it's a mental thing. I thought he was playing brutal toward the end of the year. He's just found his way here to ramp his game up."

Fedotenko said the arrival of the postseason has helped him pick up his game.

"Of course, you don't want to dog it during the season, but I feel like it's just trying to elevate your game or play better or play without hesitation going toward the playoffs," Fedotenko said. "You want to ride that wave and perform the best you can do in the playoffs because it's basically a do-or-die situation. I think that's what's exciting for fans and exciting for players. The game gets that more exciting."

Brandon Prust has been on a line with Fedotenko and Brian Boyle the past two games and said Fedotenko is one of the most physically fit players in the League. Fedotenko credits his offseason workout program that begins about a month before training camp that provides him with a "good base for the regular season."

Ruslan Fedotenko
Ruslan Fedotenko
Left Wing - NYR
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 1
SOG: 5 | +/-: 0
Fedotenko has never contended for a scoring title, but his regular-season numbers are on par with what he's done during the postseason in 92 games. He credits the workout regimen -- and captain Ryan Callahan -- for providing the foundation and motivation to play his straight-ahead, physical brand of hockey.

"I feel like, especially to play that kind of style -- and you look at Cally and how he's throwing his body -- that takes a lot of energy," Fedotenko said. "He's like the Energizer Bunny, so we try to follow that way. It's harder to play that style. I feel like for us it's better. We try to play that style the whole season. I think that helps us going into the playoffs."

While Fedotenko knows he's the go-to guy in the Rangers locker room as a veteran, he's the first to point out he's not infallible in the postseason. He was held off the score sheet during the 2006 and 2007 playoffs, and Tortorella made him watch two games from the press box as a healthy scratch in 2007.

"If you look in the playoffs I have great playoffs series, and in '07 I was not as good, Torts scratched me," Fedotenko said. "Year to year, it's different. I feel like it suits my style a little bit better. I don't want to say 'Hey, yeah, I'm the playoff guy' and all that stuff. But I feel like it suits my style more -- physical, quicker, grinder, go hard to the net. I'm not shying away from that."

Fedotenko once again found himself watching in 2012, but it was at the end of the regular season and not in the playoffs. The native of Kiev, Ukraine, admits he doesn't like to be scratched, but it helps having a long-time relationship with Tortorella and it's a big reason he's become the player he is today.

"It's helpful for me to understand what he demanded, what it takes to win and to accomplish that goal," Fedotenko said. "I feel I was pretty lucky early in my career to be coached by great players and channel me the way to be successful in this League. I feel like it's been great so far. But again, it's not without the battles. You need to learn and understand that different coaches have different expectations, different way of coaching. Sometimes you just need to have a learning process."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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