- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Forgive Chris Clark if he wanted to replace the memories of his last Stanley Cup playoff game.

The Washington Capitals’ captain has missed much of the past two seasons with injury, including all of the team’s previous 13 postseason contests. His last playoff outing was Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals, and his Calgary Flames came up short against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

But he was back in the lineup Tuesday night for the Caps’ series-clinching 2-1 victory against the New York Rangers at Verizon Center.

“This is one step toward our goal, and it took longer than we thought in this round, but I thought we did well with it,” Clark said. “Just being able to step into a Game 7 like that - these guys worked their butts off for six games, and I just came in at the end.”

With enforcer Donald Brashear serving the first of his six-game suspension, Clark replaced him in the lineup for Game 7 of his team’s Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.

Clark hadn’t played for the Caps since Jan. 27 against Boston. He missed the past three months because he had surgery to repair a torn tendon sheath in his right wrist - a problem that had been bothering him all season.

He logged 8:13 of ice time in 11 shifts on the team’s fourth line. Clark had three hits and just missed a couple of chances to score around the net.

“I felt pretty good. I don’t know how it looked, but I’ll have to watch it later,” Clark said. “I was swinging and swinging, and I looked down, and I was hitting [Boyd Gordon’s] legs [on an early chance].”

Washington’s captain had missed much of the past two with serious injuries. He scored 50 goals for the franchise between the 2005-06 and 2006-07 campaigns playing mostly on a line with Alex Ovechkin.

In the past two seasons he has played in only 50 games. Last year it was first an ear injury from an Ovechkin slap shot and then a torn groin tendon that cost him 64 games. He has just six goals and 15 points in those 50 games.

“It has been a long time,” Clark said. “It was almost like having a second summer but while the other guys actually played. Last year I was hoping to come back, too, and it never happened.”

Smart pickup

The acquisition of Sergei Fedorov continued to pay dividends when he scored the series-clinching goal with 4:59 remaining.

Fedorov was acquired at the trade deadline last year from Columbus.

“I sure feel good about what he just did,” general manager George McPhee said. “When we watched him last year before we traded for him, we thought he could still play and do things we didn’t have - control the play and be smart at both ends of the rink. He had such a positive impact on the team, we thought we had to keep him. It’s nice when you make a trade and he turns out to be more than a rental.”

McPhee was pleased with the Caps’ quality of play except for the first two periods of Game 7.

“You can’t just have good seasons; you need to do something in the playoffs,” he said. “We really needed this. The way our community has embraced this team and what’s going on in this marketplace is unbelievable. I never believed it could be this good. To have the kind of buzz that’s around this team, I thought that could only come if we won a Cup, but this market has really responded. It feels great to see what’s going on here.”

First for Leonsis

The series win, Washington’s first since 1998, was also the first for majority owner Ted Leonsis.

“We think our best times are ahead of us, but why not try to win a Cup now?” he said. “It’s such a big relief to get through the first round, and now we can rest up and get ready.

“I expected us to play well and to win the series. It was the longest four minutes of my life.”

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