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THN.com Playoff Blog: Learning curves

Ruslan Fedotenko had 16 goals and 33 points with the Isles this season. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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Ruslan Fedotenko had 16 goals and 33 points with the Isles this season. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The Penguins are down to their last strike – and with Pittsburgh’s key cog Evgeni Malkin looking very much like the biggest whiffer of the series, the end of the 2008 post-season could come as soon as Game 5 Monday in Detroit.

Once it’s over, Malkin will have at least a full year to wait before he next gets the chance to quiet his critics and win at the game’s ultimate level. But, hard as it may be for Pens fans to hear now, the Stanley Cup hunt truly is a learning process for 99 percent of developing NHLers; Malkin is just the latest in a long line of stars who took their lumps and came out on the losing side of the ledger in their initial Cup final appearance.

Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley had to learn the hard way with Ottawa last season, just like Chris Pronger had to feel the pain in Edmonton in 2006 before winning the whole shebang with Anaheim a season later. And, prior to the lockout, Calgary’s Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff had their hearts broken by Tampa Bay in 2004.

If you’re on the losing end of your first Cup final matchup, all you can ask for is a chance to learn from the mistakes you made.

For a lot of guys, that second chance won’t ever come. And that could be fate’s most cruel blow of all, unless your name is Olli Jokinen or Guy Charron.

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• I had to stare at the computer screen and rub my eyes for a few minutes to make sure I saw the news correctly: The New York Islanders won’t be re-signing Ruslan Fedotenko to a new contract after all.

The mind boggles.

Why, after all the guff I took from Isles fans (and even a couple fellow hockey observers) when I called his free agent contract the worst of the last off-season, I was expecting a multi-year extension for Fedotenko by now.

Perhaps his measly 33-point 2007-08 campaign – that included a stretch where he had just two goals in 31 games – had something to do with GM Garth Snow’s decision to not get bitten twice by the ultra-streaky winger.

Upon further reflection, Fedotenko’s contract wasn’t the worst UFA deal of the summer. (Come on down, Ladislav Nagy!) However, it wasn’t the best use of nearly $3 million, either.

And as the leaps and bounds of the NHL salary cap’s upper limit begin to slow down, he might be the type of lower-to-mid-tier player who could find himself squeezed out of the league in favor of younger, cheaper prospects.

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