Alexander Radulov fuels Max Pacioretty, Canadiens in win over Sabres

Max Pacioretty scored a goal in each period to get the Canadiens a 5-2 win over the Sabres.

Alexander Radulov‘s attitude contagious
• Radulov comparisons to Semin irrelevant
• New and old faces appear in victory

MONTREAL — Alexander Radulov played just under 18 minutes, registered two assists — he would’ve had a third had it not been for a technicality — and finished a plus-three in Montreal’s 5-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres Tuesday.

But one small mistake had him cursing himself on the ice and shaking his head in frustration off of it after the game.

It was early in the second period when Radulov collected the puck near centre ice. He turned quickly, and with two choppy strides of his chaotic skating style created the separation necessary to kick-start an odd-man rush.

Then he botched a saucer pass, which floated out of linemate Max Pacioretty’s reach and undid a golden opportunity for the Canadiens, who were only leading 1-0 at that point of the game.

“When you get a chance and when you get that break,” Radulov said before glancing skyward with exasperated expression on his face. “I’m put on the top line to be able to make that play.”

Pacioretty, who scored his second hat trick of the season (this one coming on three brilliant plays orchestrated by Radulov), understood why his linemate was up in arms.

“It speaks volumes about how good he wants to be,” said Pacioretty. “He wants to always make that play, no matter the situation or the score or how many points he has.”

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That attitude has been a big part of why Radulov has been such a whopping success in his first season in Montreal.

Everyone knew he had the talent. The KHL might not be on par with the NHL, but in order to arguably be the best player in that league for four straight seasons, you have to have a fair amount of natural ability.

It’s the competitive drive that Radulov has displayed on a nightly basis that has turned heads in Montreal since the day he arrived.

When Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin made Radulov’s acquisition on July 1, signing him to a one-year deal worth $5.75 million, he downplayed it as a calculated risk and compared it to the one he took by signing Alexander Semin a year prior.

You know, the one which ended in calamity after just 15 games.

Through 49 games Radulov has collected 12 goals and 27 assists and made any comparison with Semin irrelevant. He’s made it clear that the only thing the two of them have in common is their first name.

What’s driving him?

“There’s times when you don’t feel on top of your game, but as soon as you step on the ice [in Montreal] you hear all the support behind us,” said Radulov. “It gets the legs going and [makes you] just want to leave everything you’ve got out there.”

His ability, his attitude and his competitiveness has Canadiens fans clamouring for Bergevin to get him signed to a long-term deal before the allure of the open market becomes too hard for him to ignore.

“He brings people into the fight,” Bergevin said of the 30-year-old pending unrestricted free agent some weeks ago.

That’s what Radulov did against Buffalo on Tuesday.

It was in the first period that he broke in two-on-one with Pacioretty and pushed a backhand pass through Sabres defenceman Zach Bogosian’s legs. It was a pass most players couldn’t accomplish on their forehand side and the result was an easy goal for the guy who has one of the NHL’s deadliest shots and now ranks second among goal scorers in the league.

Just a few minutes after making the one play he was upset about in the game, Radulov one-touched a pass from centre Phillip Danault and set Pacioretty up with his 23rd of the season.

It was in the third period that Radulov wheeled around Buffalo’s net, shifted his way to the slot and bounced a shot off Bogosian’s shin pad which deflected to Pacioretty and gave him a tap-in for the hat trick.

Radulov wasn’t credited with an assist on the play, but he may as well have been credited with the goal.

“He’s played great all season long,” said Canadiens defenceman Andrei Markov, who picked up an assist in his first game back after sitting out 19 with a groin injury. “I’ve known him for a long time, and he’s always been a good player with lots of energy.

“He has lots of passion.”

It’s contagious.

The effort Radulov put into this one mirrored what his team offered in its first game out of the all-star break.

With Markov back in the fold, along with David Desharnais (who scored Montreal’s third goal Tuesday) and Greg Pateryn returning from 25-game absences, the Canadiens built up a 5-0 lead. Newly acquired Nikita Nesterov also made his debut for Montreal, which was coming off some much-needed rest following a rough portion of their schedule.

“We played with a lot of energy tonight,” said Canadiens coach Michel Therrien. “I thought we were skating well, I thought were moving the puck really good… You’re looking around, it’s a good team win.”

Zeroing in on what the guy wearing No. 47 in red offered, Therrien said, “He’s an important player for us, there’s no doubt about that.”

No there isn’t.

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