Updated: Sep 21, 2020
In the 2004 playoffs, the Lightning went to the Stanley Cup final for the first time in franchise history, dispatching the Islanders, Canadiens, and Flyers en route to the final, where they would defeat the Calgary Flames in a seven-game series. Aided by a deserved Conn Smythe-winning Brad Richards scoring 26 points and another 24 points from Martin St. Louis, the Lightning would overcome a 3-2 series deficit, forcing a decisive game seven in Tampa after St. Louis’ double-overtime winner at the Saddledome. However, one Lightning player’s ridiculous goal output throughout the playoffs (including half of them in the important Eastern Conference Final series against the Flyers, and both Lightning goals in game seven of the Stanley Cup) often gets overlooked, so it deserves a deep dive.
Ruslan Fedotenko first came into the league in 2000-01, making the Philadelphia Flyers roster as an undrafted free agent at the age of 22. The Ukrainian blossomed in his first season as a Flyer, picking up 36 points, and only one point in five playoff games. Fedotenko would spend another season in Philadelphia before being dealt to Tampa Bay for a few draft picks, and this is where Fedotenko would replicate his rookie success.
In his first season in Tampa, Ruslan potted 19 goals and 32 points, the highest goal total of his career. The next season was even better for Fedotenko, as he picked up his highest assist and point totals of his career, notching 22 and 39, respectively, all while being a contributor to the Lightning having the best record in the Eastern Conference and getting the first seed in the playoffs.
The First Round: Getting Started
The playoffs are where Fedotenko would absolutely explode. The Lightning took on the eighth seed New York Islanders in the first round, and in a series where the first four games ended in 3-0 scores, Fedotenko picked up his first goal of the postseason on a beautiful setup from Brad Richards to stretch the lead to 2-0 in game four of that series. Fedotenko was on the board, and he would not stop there, picking up the crucial second goal for the Lightning in front of a home crowd in game five, burying a rebound for his second playoff goal. St. Louis would win game five in overtime, sending the Lightning to the second round for a matchup with the Montreal Canadiens.
The Second Round: Tone Setter
In the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Lightning took on the seventh-seeded Montreal Canadiens who had upset the two-seeded Boston Bruins in the first round in seven games. While he was held off the board for the remainder of the series, Fedotenko picked up the first Lightning goal of the series and his third of the playoffs in a 4-0 game one victory, getting credit for the game-winning goal in that one. The Lightning would quickly remove the Canadiens from the playoffs, sweeping them and moving on to face their toughest opponents yet.
The Third Round: Revenge
The Lightning would face a Flyers team who would be their toughest task in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Flyers, a three-seed and Fedotenko’s former team, had beaten the defending Stanley Cup Champion Devils in the first round and the Leafs in the second round. As for Fedotenko, he had scored at a pretty expected rate through the first two rounds, picking up three goals, but he did something in this series he had never done before or would do after, and that was scoring six goals in seven games. He had revenge in his blood for the trade that Philadelphia made to get rid of him, and he did get his revenge after all. After being held off the scoresheet in game one Fedotenko got on the board in game two to stop the bleeding of six straight Flyers goals. Onto game three, where Fedotenko would score the crucial second goal for the Lightning, a power-play goal that just trickled by goaltender Robert Esche. It would stand to be the game-winner.
Ruslan would come up empty in game four but got the scoring started with a garbage goal in the first period of game five. The Lightning would take the 3-2 series edge, and head to Philadelphia to try and close it out. It seemed that way for a while in game six, as Fedotenko picked up his first goal of the game late in the second period to tie the game at three. He then silenced the sea of orange at the Wachovia Center by picking up a power-play goal less than two minutes later to give the Lightning the lead, which they would hold until Keith Primeau buried a shot with 1:49 remaining in the third to send it to overtime. Simon Gagne of the Flyers played the role of hero in this game, however, sending it to game seven in Tampa with an overtime winner with less than two minutes remaining in the first overtime.
Fedotenko picked up the important first goal of game seven on the power-play, and Fredrik Modin would stretch the Lightning lead to two in the second. While Kim Johnsson did get one goal back quickly for Philadelphia, the Lightning held on to that one-goal lead and won the series. They had a date with Calgary in the franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup Final appearance. This series was incredible and perhaps one of the best of all-time in my opinion.
The Stanley Cup: Game 7 Hero
Fun fact: this was the first Stanley Cup Final to not feature any of the Devils, Stars, Avalanche, or Red Wings since 1994. The Flames were a surprise going into the final and had a tough task taking on the best team in the East. However, they had beaten the best team in the league in the semifinals in the Red Wings, as well as knocking out the Canucks and Sharks to boot. Held scoreless in a 4-1 victory for the Flames in game one, Fedotenko found the back of the net for the first time in game two, scoring his tenth goal of the playoffs on a rebound, sending St. Pete Times Forum into a frenzy. After both teams traded shutouts in the next two games, Oleg Saprykin scored an overtime-winning goal in game five to give the Flames the edge and heading back home to Calgary where they could clinch their first Stanley Cup since 1989. Back at the Saddledome, Fedotenko would pick up an assist on the first goal of the game but once again be held off the goal column. After Martin Gelinas’ controversial no-goal in that game, St. Louis scored the aforementioned 2OT goal to send the series to a game seven and back to Tampa Bay.
Ruslan Fedotenko put it all on the line for game seven. In front of a boisterous home crowd, Fedotenko picked up the first crucial goal of the game off a rebound, beating Kiprusoff for just the second time in the series. He would score another one, an absolute rocket, and Gary Thorne would yell “Fedotenkoooooo!” emphatically. This stood to be the game-winner, as Craig Conroy would add a goal with 9:21 remaining in the third for Calgary. However, Tampa would hold on, and win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, with Fedotenko playing the role of hero in game seven.
The significance of Fedotenko’s performance (12 G in a 22 game stretch) is that he had never done it before in his career and would never come anywhere close to doing it again. The closest he came was 2005-06, where he scored 10 G in a 22-game stretch in a season where he potted 25+ goals for the only time in his career.
Ruslan Fedotenko’s postseason performance that season parlayed into success the next season, recording a career-high 26 goals and 41 points. It would be the only time in his career that he would surpass the 20-goal and 40-point plateau. He was rewarded with a one-year, $1.56 million contract for the following season.
After that year, Fedotenko bounced around a bit for the rest of his career. He spent one season with the Islanders before latching on with the Penguins where he’d spend two seasons and win another Stanley Cup. He picked up 14 points during that Stanley Cup run, the same amount as he had in 2004, but not nearly the same amount of goals. After one more season in Pittsburgh, he would go to the Rangers, then the KHL before finally returning to Philadelphia in 2012-13, making his career come full-circle.
Ultimately, that would be Fedotenko’s final season in the NHL. He did play in the KHL again, then spent two seasons on the Iowa Wild without getting a call-up to Minnesota. He announced his retirement with 366 points and two Stanley Cups, which is more than some players get in their career. I can still hear Gary Thorne yelling “FEDOTENKO!” to this day.
Ruslan Fedotenko put it all on the line for one playoff year, playing arguably the best hockey of his career that playoffs, and was rewarded with a Stanley Cup. While he would never come quite close to that level of production again in his career, Fedotenko went goal crazy in the 2004 playoffs, reserving his place in Lightning history. His revenge-fueled Eastern Conference Final was the stuff of legends, and his entire postseason production would probably have gone largely forgotten nowadays without us taking a deep dive.