St. Louis: Fedotenko's 'really found his game'

Updated: May 28, 2004, 12:34 AM ET
Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. -- With NHL scoring champion Martin St. Louis slumping, Ruslan Fedotenko is picking up the slack for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

''He's really found his game,'' St. Louis said of Tampa Bay's unlikely offensive hero.

Fedotenko's 10th goal of the playoffs provided the spark in a 4-1 victory over the Calgary Flames that evened the Stanley Cup final at one game apiece Thursday night.

''He had an up and down start at the beginning of the season and then got really consistent the second half,'' St. Louis said. ''Scoring the first goal is huge. We talk about that every game.''

St. Louis, who had 94 points during the regular season, is starting to emerge from his scoring lull. He was quiet for two periods Thursday before helping Tampa Bay pull away in the third with an assist and a goal.

The MVP finalist struggled to score goals in Tampa Bay's last two playoff series. But he snapped a five-game drought in a loss to the Flames in Game 1 and felt he was on the verge of turning his luck around.

''They wanted it more than we did in Game 1, and you can't have that,'' St. Louis said. ''Tonight says something about our character, our consistency. We don't play two bad games in a row.''

Fedotenko scored first for the third time in five games, a good omen for the Lightning, who improved to 11-2 in the postseason when they get the first goal.

''It was important to give us confidence,'' Fedotenko said. ''We came out so strong, it was matter of time, I thought.''

St. Louis, held without a shot through two periods, got an assist on Brad Richards' goal and scored his seventh of the postseason eight seconds into a 5-on-3 advantage for a 4-0 lead.

''It's not about personal goals. This far into the playoffs, it's about the team,'' Fedotenko said. ''We knew we had to respond after the first game and we got the job done. ... We knew what we could do. We knew what we had to do.''

On a team featuring six players who scored 20 or more goals during the regular season -- none of them Fedotenko -- the Ukrainian is the Lightning's leading playoff goal scorer. He had just one goal in 22 career playoff games before this year.

The right wing began asserting himself in Tampa Bay's first-round win over the New York Islanders and has become increasingly important to the Lightning's success. He has 10 goals in his last 14 games, and he has delivered the game-winner two times.

Fedotenko said his strong play is a carryover from the second half of the regular season when coach John Tortorella moved him to a line with St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, who had an assist on Tampa Bay's first goal.

''If you lose two in a row in a seven-game series, you are in deep trouble. Just do the math,'' said Tortorella, adding that the biggest adjustment the Lightning made between games was to correct the team's mind-set.

''No one has this on a script. You just go about your business. You try to prepare every day and just go about your business and find ways to win hockey games. Tonight we did.''

Fedotenko scored the first goal in Tampa Bay victories in Games 5 and 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Philadelphia Flyers. He also has had two goals in a game twice during these playoffs.

''It's so important to get off to a good start,'' defenseman Nolan Pratt said. ''We saw that in Game 1.''

The challenge now is to sustain the momentum in Game 3 Saturday night in Calgary.

''It will be a hard game. We know that,'' Fedotenko said. ''It will be a good series.''

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press