Alexander Radulov was supposed to bring more offense to the Nashville Predators.
Instead, in his first NHL game in more that four years, he supplied all of the offense. His goal with 7:59 to play in the second period was the only one the Predators got in a 5-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday at Pittsburgh.
Radulov beat goalie Marc-Andre Fleury with a rebound chance after he helped create a shot opportunity for defenseman Hal Gill. The last time he scored in the NHL was March 20, 2008, when he had a pair of goals against the Detroit Red Wings.
All that did, though, was cut a four-goal deficit down to three.
The Penguins, the hottest team in the league over recent weeks, restored the margin when Evgeni Malkin, who leads the league with 95 points, scored his second of the contest and 45th of the season 2:03 into the final period. Malkin started the scoring 1:23 into the game and fewer than three minutes later Pascal Dupuis put Pittsburgh (12-0-1 in its last 13) ahead 2-0.
Nashville outshot Pittsburgh 30-23 but Fleury outplayed Pekka Rinne in a matchup of the league’s two winningest goalies.
The two entered the contest tied for the league lead with 39 wins apiece. Fleury improved to 40-14-4 and Rinne fell to 39-16-8 with his third straight loss overall and second in a row in regulation.
Radulov arrived in Nashville late Tuesday, less than two weeks after the completion of his fourth season in the Kontinental Hockey League. The Predators’ first-round draft choice in 2004 practiced Wednesday and was on the ice for the opening faceoff against the Penguins.
He logged 15:54 of ice time, which nearly equaled his average for the 2007-08 season (16:23) when he last played for Nashville. He had two shots on goal but was one of six Predators with a minus-2 rating.
With the victory, the Penguins became the third team (the second in the Eastern Conference) to clinch a playoff berth.