Thursday night was supposed to be all about Alexander Radulov’s return to the Nashville Predators, but it’s pretty tough to steal the Pittsburgh Penguins’ thunder – even when you score.
Radulov provided the Predators’ lone goal as the Penguins dominated the game, winning 5-1 – and thus becoming the East’s second team to clinch a playoff spot – thanks in large part to another outstanding performance from Evgeni Malkin and James Neal.
Penguins pound Preds
Malkin scored his 44 and 45th goals of the season, giving him a stunning seven goals and four assists in his last five games. Malkin has nine games left to get the five tallies needed for 50, which would defy my (seemingly reasonable?) guess that Steven Stamkos would be this season’s only 50-goal guy. Geno now has a whopping 95 points in just 66 games, making it hard to deny the crowd’s logic in chanting “M-V-P!” tonight.
Neal wasn’t exactly chopped liver, either, collecting four assists for the game’s first star nod. Chris Kunitz (one goal, one assist) and Kris Letang (two helpers) also played a big part in the win, with the only “bummer” being that Sidney Crosby went without a point.
(It looked like Crosby “finally” scored his first goal of his second return, but Kunitz received credit for the goal as the puck deflected off of a Predators’ skate instead.)
Radulov under review
Radulov did get his goal, but a -2 rating and just two shots on goal show that he didn’t have a super-busy return. He appeared in just under 16 minutes (15:54 time on ice), but it’ll probably be fairer to judge his work this weekend, when the Predators host the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday and start a three-game road trip by visiting the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday (which you can watch on NBC Sports Network).
Atlantic race update
As I mentioned before, the Penguins are now guaranteed a playoff spot. Here’s what the Atlantic title battle looks like now:
Rangers: 99 points, 43 regulation/OT wins, nine games left
Penguins: 98 points, 37 regulation/OT wins, nine games left
Flyers: 94 points, 39 regulation/OT wins, eight games left
It’s likely that the Flyers (who beat the Washington Capitals 2-1 in a shootout tonight, more on that soon) are out of the mix at this point, although they’ll face the Penguins two more times this season.
Honestly, one cannot help but wonder if it might all come down to an April 5 home game against the Rangers. New York holds tiebreaker advantages so the Penguins almost certainly need to finish with one more point to win the division, but that contest could represent the difference if the two teams remain neck-and-neck down the stretch.
Just ask the Predators how easy it is to stick with the Penguins.