TAMPA - Alexander Radulov put another dent in the Lightning's playoff chances on Saturday night, while upping the Canadiens' lead atop the Atlantic Division in the process.
The Russian sniper lit the lamp just 51 seconds into overtime, lifting Claude Julien's troops to a 2-1 victory at Amalie Arena. It marked the Canadiens' fourth straight win, and put them eight points clear of both the Maple Leafs and Senators with four games left on their schedule.
"I didn't get many of them this year, but it's nice. It's always nice," said Radulov, on the subject of his second game-winning tally and 17th goal of the season. "I think we played a good game. We deserved to win. Patch [Max Pacioretty] made a great pass. At the end of the day, it worked out well. We'll take it."
Video: Radulov buries OT winner as Habs beat Lightning, 2-1
They sure will, because they knew full-well that Jon Cooper's contingent wasn't going to make it easy on them with so much on the line right now and time running out to secure a postseason berth.
"They're a desperate team, so we knew they'd give us their best. Their goalie [Andrei Vasilevskiy] gave us their best, and I think their team did as well. They were really skating hard, and finishing more checks than we're used to," said Pacioretty, who notched the 200th and 201st assists of his career in the win. "I think they got a lot of guys who got an opportunity to step into the lineup and try and make a difference. Normally guys who have that opportunity are going to play hard and play physical, so that was the case [on Saturday]."
Still, the Canadiens managed to keep the Lightning at bay offensively for the better part of the tilt, limiting them to just 22 shots on goal, while testing Vasilevskiy with 36 shots of their own. Only Yanni Gourde managed to solve Carey Price and tie things up with 8:22 remaining in regulation time.
"I thought we played well defensively, and that translated into a lot of offensive zone time, a lot of opportunities. We only scored two goals, but we had chances to score. It's a positive feeling," said Pacioretty, clearly impressed by the way the whole group reacted after locking up their own playoff spot back on Thursday night. "You don't know what to expect in that situation, but there definitely was no let down. To come out and put that behind us was pretty impressive."
Video: MTL@TBL: Radulov nets scorching one-timer for OT win
"Impressive" certainly is the best way to describe the way Radulov has responded to his recent scoring drought. After going nine straight games without lighting the lamp, the Canadiens' No. 47 has two goals in his last three outings as the top line continues to roll.
"I feel a lot of pride when he scores and when he contributes offensively because I owe so much to him," praised Pacioretty, after finding Radulov for the game-winning one-timer in the extra frame. "He's done so much for this team and for myself. To see him get rewarded and see the energy that he plays with night in and night out is really rewarding to our group because he's such a dynamic player, and that rubs off on the rest of us. He's a huge part of this team."
Julien couldn't agree more, having seen first-hand the kind of excitement and enthusiasm Radulov exudes day after day since taking over behind the bench.
"He's passionate about his work. He loves playing hockey. He loves being on the ice, even for practice. He works hard. He's a team guy who wants to win for the right reasons," said Julien. "He wants to be a part of the solution. That's what I like about him."