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It's Fedotenko's time of the year

by Larry Wigge
PITTSBURGH -- His cheeks were red, but it's not because Ruslan Fedotenko was embarrassed about the way he's played. There's no chance of that at this time of the year.

"Everybody asks me about that," Fedotenko laughed in front of a group of reporters after Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final after helping the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 to force a Game 7 Friday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS). "I don't know why my cheeks turn red like that."

When the blood and energy flow for the 30-year-old native of Kiev, Ukraine, his rosy complexion comes out in a big way. Sort of like the way Fedotenko helps energize his team when a Game 7 is in the offing.

You wouldn't be wrong to say that the defining moment for Fedotenko is at hand -- Game 7 of the Final, because the last time Ruslan was in this situation he scored both of Tampa Bay's goals in the Lightning's 2-1 Game 7 victory over the Calgary Flames in 2004.

"It's a great feeling to be back in a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final," Fedotenko said. "You can't find a truer test, where you're either the winner or the loser. It's nice to be here again. But it's a team sport, where there are no individual heroes. Besides, I think I've become a more well-rounded player since my Tampa days. I'm proud of all the things I have been able to do here."

Fedotenko was up front in 2004 when he scored 12 goals in 22 playoff games, with his second in Game 7 of the Final the last of his three game-winners that year. Five years later, he's back --  helping the Penguins to another Game 7 with 7 goals in 23 games.

In Game 6, Fedotenko was a force on the ice. He was stopped twice on close-in scoring chances with the Penguins up 1-0 in the second period. But he never stopped working, keeping the puck alive to help set up Tyler Kennedy for the game-winning goal 5:35 into the third period. He ended up with three shots on goal, four hits and one blocked shot.

"Feds was a tank out there," Kennedy said. "He was strong on the puck and in the corners all night. But then, he's always there when a big game is on the line."

Fedotenko has always been a very skilled player, but the well-roundedness with which he spoke includes a tie with Sidney Crosby for the Pittsburgh lead in plus-minus with a plus-9. He's fourth on the Penguins in hits in the playoffs with 56.

"I feel very fortunate," Fedotenko said. "There are a lot of people who play their whole careers without getting to play in the Final."

It's a far cry from last spring, when Fedotenko was watching the playoffs after a disappointing season with the woeful New York Islanders before becoming a free agent on July 1.

Things were about to get a lot better for him.

"When my agent told me there were a couple of teams asking about me on July 1 and the Penguins were one of them," Fedotenko said, "I told him right away that I thought my skills would fit in with the core of star players Pittsburgh already had. I told him, 'They are coming off a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, and this is the kind of team I want to play for.' "

Fedotenko admits to thinking that with his skills, he might also get an opportunity to play on a line with either Crosby or Evgeni Malkin -- a nice incentive to sign with Pittsburgh. Obviously the Penguins felt the same about Fedotenko; they officially signed him just three days into free agency.

Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup Final Gear"You definitely think about that when Pittsburgh asks about you, but you can't just toss your stick on the ice and expect to stay on lines with those guys without producing," he added. "Especially in playoff time, where it's so exciting. It's grinding. And I love to play at times when there's a challenge, pressure and battles to be won.

"I've always felt I'm much sharper when I take that do-or-die approach, changing my mindset where you can't take a shift off."

Fedotenko says he's never been happier with his life after eight NHL seasons -- though one more win wouldn't hurt.

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