- The Washington Times - Friday, April 17, 2009

Accustomed to thrilling seven-game series, multiround journeys into the postseason and, three times, the joy of hoisting the Stanley Cup, Sergei Fedorov found himself relaxing when toiling in anonymity for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and Columbus Blue Jackets.

He was playing on teams that weren’t going to the playoffs.

He was playing in markets that didn’t embrace the sport like his first NHL stop in Detroit.

He was seeing the last of his prime years in the NHL ending in early April.

“The summer is too long without the playoffs,” Fedorov said. “My mental pressure and readiness got rusty. I was not in a playoff situation for a long time, and I relaxed.”

Standing in the Washington Capitals’ locker room after an intense practice last month with a protein drink that looked like Pepto-Bismol, the 39-year old said his move to the District last year was just the jolt he needed, a boost that has continued this year.

“The juices really got flowing when I got here, and then I got nervous trying to anticipate what was ahead of me in the playoffs,” he said.

Said fellow Russian Viktor Kozlov: “When the coach believes in you and puts you on the ice, it would energize anybody.”

While he’s no longer the point-a-game scorer that made him a superstar in Detroit, Fedorov has developed into a role model for young Russians Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin.

“He’s been unbelievable for them in terms of leadership,” said Pierre McGuire, an analyst for NBC and Canadian sports network TSN. “He’s a conscious that Ovechkin can rely on.”

The Capitals have had to rely on Fedorov to be a first- or second-line center because an organization deep in young talent at defense, wing and in goal is lacking for a scoring center after Nicklas Backstrom. Fedorov started the year strong, playing 20 or more minutes six times in the first month before he was derailed by a sprained ankle, the first of his career, that limited him to three games in a two-month span.

Since his return, his ice time has been throttled back to around 14 to 16 minutes. He played 14:54 in Wednesday’s postseason opener against the New York Rangers, winning 14 of 20 faceoffs.

“He has poise and grace under fire,” McGuire said. “He can win big faceoffs, he can kill a big penalty - he’s a multidimensional weapon.”

Fedorov defected to the United States in 1990 in Portland, Ore., while his team was preparing for the Goodwill Games. He didn’t play a game in the minor leagues and became a key cog in a Detroit dynasty that kicked into high gear in 1995 and continued through a third Stanley Cup in 2002.

“When he was dominating the league, he was as good as it gets,” McGuire said. “He showed he was the ultimate [dominant] player because his coach didn’t have to worry about matchup situations. He could force turnovers, and that was a huge weapon to have.”

Fedorov left the Red Wings after the 2002-03 season to sign a four-year, $40 million contract with Anaheim. Later he was dealt to Columbus and then came to the District at the trade deadline last year. During the Capitals’ push to the Southeast Division title, he scored 13 points in 18 games. He played his first playoff series in five years, a seven-game loss to Philadelphia.

This season, the Capitals are trying to win their first playoff series in 11 years. Fedorov can relate to the drought: Three of his first four Detroit teams were bounced in Game 7 of the opening round.

“If you have big goals in the playoffs, we should play every shift [in the regular season] like it’s a playoff game and test absolutely every part of our game,” he said.

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