The roar from the crowd seemed a bit premature. Then again, maybe it was a long time coming.
One of the loudest roars from the sellout crowd at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday night came before Alexander Radulov took his turn in the shootout. As soon as he came over the boards and was announced as the Nashville Predators’ second shooter, people got on their feet and made it known they had waited four years to see him in just such a situation — one that requires skill, imagination and a little something else.
“The great thing about that is when the game is on the line, Rad wants the puck,” coach Barry Trotz said. “That’s what good players do. And he’s a good player.”
He didn’t disappoint.
His successful attempt — an easy forehand shot after a series of slick moves — was the only one for either team and lifted the Predators to a 2-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild. Prior to that, Nashville had converted on just one of its last 13 shootout attempts and had lost four of its last five tries at the tiebreaking procedure.
It was just the latest way in which he delivered on the promise that so many believed he offered during his self-imposed, four-year exile in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.
In seven games since he rejoined the Predators he has had at least a point five times. In all he has racked up three goals and three assists, including some notable ones. His subtle play and pass in the neutral zone on March 24 against Winnipeg set up Matt Halischuk’s goal that put Nashville ahead to stay. Last Saturday in a victory against Chicago he scored a goal when he beat two defenseman and then got a shot past goalie Corey Crawford.
“Obviously, that’s what he does. He’s an exciting player,” captain Shea Weber said. “The thrives on those situations. The other night, that was a goal-scorer’s goal. Then [Tuesday], he was just patient, patient and found a hole.”
The Predators, who play their final home game of the regular season Thursday against Dallas (7 p.m., Bridgestone Arena), already were in the midst of one of their best offensive seasons.
Radulov, though, has been one of, if not their best offensive players since his return, just the way so many imagined for so long.
“He’s a little bit of a wild card,” Trotz said. “He’s a very skilled, high-talented guy who can make something out of nothing, like [Pavel] Datsyuk in Detroit. He’s that type of player.
“Now we’ve got a guy like that in Rads.”