NASHVILLE, Tenn.— It was one second of what turned out to be one of the most emotional nights of Shea Weber’s career to date.
In the fifth minute of the third period between the Montreal Canadiens and Nashville Predators, with the visiting Canadiens trailing 1-0, former Predator Alexander Radulov found some open space in the offensive zone, pivoted quickly and threw a cross-current pass to Weber at the point. The play caught the hometown boys in blue and gold so off guard that the 6-foot-4 defenceman seemingly had all the time in the world to pick his spot.
But all it took was one second for Weber to beat former teammate Pekka Rinne over his right shoulder, send Bridgestone Arena into a frenzy, and give his team the hope it needed to eventually prevail 2-1 in overtime.
“It was big,” Weber said.
After struggling to elaborate on what it felt like to score his 10th goal of the season against the team who drafted him in 2003 and shockingly traded him away last summer after 11 years of service in their uniform — five of them as team captain — he finally put it all in perspective.
“There’s different emotional games, this was definitely one of them,” he said. “Obviously it started yesterday with getting here, going to the hotel and seeing old friends…. I was glad we got it done.”
Weber was relieved to get out of the spotlight, where he’s admittedly far from comfortable.
He heard the ovations when warmup began, he heard them when his name was announced as part of Montreal’s starting lineup, and he choked back tears during a two minute video tribute the Predators ran on the scoreboard during the first television timeouts.
“I didn’t want to look at the video to be honest with you,” He said. “I was a little bit afraid I might get emotional. Obviously, like I said, I’m not going to lie to you… it was really special. It was special being back in this building where I spent a lot of years, and even better that we got the win.”
“We” being the operative word.
The Canadiens knew what this game meant to Weber and they performed accordingly by peppering Rinne with 43 shots. When Predators forward Kevin Fiala opened the scoring with 19:06 into the second period on a shot that deflected off the stick of Canadiens defenceman Nathan Beaulieu, it might have deflated the visiting side.
The conversation in Montreal’s room during the second intermission was centred on keeping the pedal down, said goaltender Carey Price, who put in an admirable performance on the same day he was named captain of the Atlantic Division for this season’s all-star game.
Price stopped Viktor Arvidsson on a second-period breakaway, stretched all the way across his crease to stone Colin Wilson on a perfect one-timed shot, and he came up with 20 others on the night to keep his team in position.
“Another ho-hum game for him,” said Weber.
“We can’t forget about Radulov,” said Canadiens coach Michel Therrien.
In his first return to play against the team who drafted him 15th overall in 2004, he not only assisted on Weber’s goal, he set up the winner by Max Pacioretty.
Radulov left Nashville under calamitous circumstances on two occasions.
The first time he broke from the final year of his entry-level contract to sign a big-money deal in Russia. His short-lived return four years later lasted all of 17 games and ended with his benching from a playoff game for pulling an all-nighter and breaking the team’s imposed curfew.
The fans in attendance Tuesday gave Radulov the reception he expected, booing him mercilessly every time he touched the puck.
“I can’t really control that,” he said after it was all over. “They’re fans, they’re buying the tickets, and they’re allowed to do whatever they want.”
He was seemingly allowed to do whatever he wanted in this game too.
“Fans might want to boo him at home,” joked Weber.
The big man could finally smile with days — if not months — worth of tension about this game now broken.
Meanwhile, P.K. Subban, who was traded to Nashville for Weber and missed his eighth consecutive game with a herniated disc in his back, had to be disappointed with the outcome.
“I’ll just have to rely on my teammates to get it done,” he said at his morning press conference.
The Predators, who were 10-0-3 when scoring first this season, failed. And they failed once again in extra time, where they’ve gone 1-7 so far this campaign.
“Certainly there was a lot of attention that was brought to this game,” said Predators coach Peter Laviolette. “We were outdone in too many areas.”
The night belonged to Weber, Radulov, and the Canadiens.