NEW YORK, N.Y. – Kevin Hayes didn’t have a chance. The New York Rangers forward was trying to first get body positioning on Alex Radulov of the Montreal Canadiens and then make a defensive play when the puck slipped off Phillip Danault’s stick in front of Henrik Lundqvist.
But the 30-year-old Radulov fought Hayes off and with one hand on his stick and saw which way Lundqvist was leaning before resetting his hands and scoring Montreal’s third goal en route to a 3-1 Game 3 victory to take a 2-1 series lead.
“Just played the moment. Saw Lundqvist on his knee,” Radulov said afterward. “It happened fast. It’s good that we get that W. That’s the main thing.”
Eight minutes before his highlight-reel moment, Radulov led a Canadiens zone entry that ended with a nifty pass to Alex Galchenyuk, who waited out the Rangers defense before feeding Shea Weber for the first power play goal of the series.
This was the second straight game that Radulov had a big impact on a Canadiens win. His centering pass late in Game 2 led to Tomas Plekanec’s tying goal. Deep into the overtime that he forced, Radulov finished off the Rangers with the winner. It was just continuance of what the Russian forward has provided the team since returning to the NHL last summer following four seasons in the KHL.
Let’s not talk all offense. How about a little defense? Late in the second period, Radulov prevented Ryan McDonagh from getting a great scoring chance by tying up the Rangers captain’s stick in the Canadiens zone.
It’s the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That play is expected out of everyone.
“Everyone has to do their job defensively, both sides of the ice,” he said. “Their forward made a great pass to McDonagh and I was just trying to do everything to not let him shoot. … I just tried to put my stick on top of his stick and put [all my] weight [down]. He’s a strong guy but eventually he didn’t get that shot.”
The maturity of Radulov has been a big talking point all season long. There were plenty of questions about it after he signed a one-year, $5.75 million deal with the Canadiens on July 1. How his time in Nashville ended wasn’t forgotten, but it’s clear this isn’t the same person. He’s older, wiser and learned from experience.
“When you get older you start to realize some things and in the game it’s the same thing,” he said. “You made a mistake once and you want to make sure you don’t make it again. That’s the point.”
On the ice, it’s Radulov passion and desire to win that rubs off on those around him. Canadiens head coach Claude Julien has been impressed in only two months on the job.
“He’s a guy who really cares. He wants to win, and he doesn’t care about anything but winning,” Julien said. “He’s hard on himself because he wants to help us win. But he has no issues whether he’s on the ice or off the ice.”
A lot went right for Montreal in Game 3. Their power play, which was 0-for-7 entering Sunday, capitalized on two of their three opportunities. Carey Price stopped 20 of 21 shots. They got goals at vital points of the game to ensure the win.
You wouldn’t have been shocked by an emotional letdown in Game 3 with New York coming back home to Madison Square Garden (despite their issues playing there) and the Canadiens still riding the high of how Game 2 ended. And through 37 minutes of play the scoreboard still had zeroes on both sides. But then the power play opened the door and in an eight-minute span in the third period it was Radulov helping close it on the Rangers.
But it’s still early in the series and there’s work to be done.
“Next game is going to be new game. We’ve got to stick with the game that we play,” Radulov said. “Even more, we have to better defensively, don’t get those breakdowns because they’re a good team and they’re not going to give up and come harder in the next one.”
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