As a member of the Capitals for nine of his first 10 NHL seasons, Eric Fehr knows all too well the accomplishments and disappointments of the Alex Ovechkin era. He shares many of those memories with the players he now must face as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“It’s all business, especially at this time of year,” Fehr said with a smile. “There’s a lot on the line right now and we definitely want to win.”
That means no texting between Fehr and good friend Jay Beagle, who affectionately refers to Fehr as “Frank The Tank” from his children’s book, The Bulliest Dozer.
“It’s always fun going against your friends,” Beagle said. “But no texting during the playoffs. We can talk after.”
Fehr played a key role for the Caps last season, recording 19 goals and 33 points while centering a third line. He was injured just four games into the Capitals’ playoff run and did not return, leaving the Capitals without one of their top penalty killers and defensive specialists.
“He played a huge role on our team during the whole season,” Beagle said. “You lose guys in playoffs and when you lose impact players it affected us for sure.”
This season, Fehr recorded eight goals and six assists in 55 games for the Penguins and has added one goal in the playoffs. He’s expected to begin this series on a second line with Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz.
“I expect this to be a very crazy atmosphere tonight,” he said inside a cramped visiting locker room. “Obviously, a lot of history between the two teams and the fans are going to be excited.”
Fehr is not the only player with close ties to members of the opposition.
Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy says former Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik was one of his best friends when they played together in Pittsburgh. Penguins center Matt Cullen, the oldest player in the series at 39, won a Stanley Cup with Justin Williams when they were both in Carolina.
“He’s one of my favorite humans,” Lovejoy said of Orpik. “He was a veteran defenseman when I showed up (in Pittsburgh) and we had a great relationship. He was one of my best friends and I wish him nothing but the best, except for the next couple weeks.”
Cullen and Williams won a Cup together in 2006 and have been friends ever since. Williams played in his 1,000th game in the Caps’ season finale. Cullen has played in 1,294 games.
“Justin’s a good friend and it’s fun to see the success he’s had,” Cullen said. “We went on a really fun run in Carolina and we played a few years there. He’s a competitor. He’s a good guy, a good friend and I’m happy to see he’s had some success.”
Cullen, who put up 16 goals this season, said he was happy to see Williams sign with the Capitals, just as he’s happy to have landed in Pittsburgh.
“If you have a choice you want to find a team that can go deep into the playoffs and that what you can bring to the team can help them take that next step,” he said. “I know he thinks that way and I think a lot of guys think that way, especially as you get late in your career.”