NEW YORK -- Alexander Radulov's goal was spectacular, the perfect highlight to lead any postgame show detailing the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 win against the New York Rangers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.
His assist on Shea Weber's game-winning goal, the difference in Montreal taking a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series, was equally brilliant for how he read the defense and realized the Canadiens had numbers below the dots.
Those showman plays are what have defined Radulov and made him special for a long time, since before he came to North America to play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League 13 years ago.
But defense? Nah, Radulov has never been known for that. Commitment? Not his thing, right?
Wrong. Drop that dated perception of Radulov because it's not true anymore, if it ever was at all.
"He's a guy who really cares," Montreal coach Claude Julien said. "He wants to win and he doesn't care about anything but winning."
For proof see Radulov's stick check on New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh in the waning seconds of the second period. Without it, the Canadiens may have entered the third period tied instead of leading 1-0. Without it, the third period could have gone differently for Montreal, and for Radulov.
McDonagh got the puck in transition from J.T. Miller and was in position going into the left circle to shoot while Carey Price was moving from his left to right. Radulov basically said no with a perfect stick check.
"I was just trying to do anything to not let him shoot," Radulov said. "I just tried to put my stick on top of his stick and hold it, put all my weight [on it]. He's a strong guy but eventually he didn't get that shot."
McDonagh was so angry after the play he gave Radulov a whack on the back of his legs with his stick.
"I don't feel anything," Radulov said.
The Rangers felt Radulov's presence all game. He followed his performance in Game 2 at Bell Centre on Friday, when he scored the overtime winner and had three points, with an arguably better and more impactful performance start to finish in Game 3.
He was dominant on the puck and seemed to shrink the Rangers' will against him.
"He's a handful to control and obviously when he can control [the puck] and protect it like he has it draws guys to him and it's going to open up other guys," Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher said. "As the game goes on the way we play we're just trying to wear teams down and make them work. Every shift is an investment in the series and a guy like Radu is a perfect example. Every shift he's going to come after guys and just make it tough, make 'em work. That stuff usually pays off late in games."
It paid off for Radulov in the third period.
He carried the puck into the zone and drew McDonagh and Kevin Hayes to him. He was facing away from the goal but he knew the Canadiens had to have numbers, especially since they were on the power play and two guys were attacking him, so he dropped a pass deeper into the zone to Alex Galchenyuk, setting up a 3-on-2 from the circles in.
Galchenyuk found Weber, who scored on a one-timer from the left circle at 7:42 to give Montreal a 2-0 lead.
"I walked into the zone and I see McDonagh was on me and the other guy come so I kind of thought we're supposed to have a guy in the middle," Radulov said. "I kind of risked it, but we had a power play and we're supposed to have that guy in the middle, which we did."
Next came Radulov's goal at 15:35, a play that started because he was in position on the forecheck to intercept Kevin Klein's pass out of the Rangers' defensive zone.
Radulov brought the puck into the zone and got it to Phillip Danault, who dropped it into the middle where Radulov picked it up in the high slot. Radulov proceeded to stickhandle, deke and shoot with only his right hand on his stick while using his left to fend off Hayes.
"I couldn't do that," Gallagher said, laughing.
Radulov didn't think before he did it.
"It just comes," he said. "I had nothing because the guy was on me and I kind of saw [Henrik] Lundqvist moving with me. I just pulled it back and it went there, so it's good."
He wasn't done.
Radulov had two more shifts in the final 2:56 with the Canadiens trying to hold onto a 3-1 lead and Lundqvist on the bench for the extra skater.
He forechecked hard, stole the puck in New York's zone and dumped it in deep with 2:30 left. He dove at the Montreal blue line to poke the puck out of the zone, down the ice with 1:56 left. He got back up, forechecked again and nearly helped Montreal get an empty-net goal.
"If he's on the ice like he was at the end his goal is to get the puck out and he's going to do whatever it took to make those extra plays and to work hard to make sure he did the right thing," Julien said. "It's nice when you've got guys like that who are buying in and doing those things because they're being rewarded at the end."
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