If the Nashville Predators are to take a lead in their playoff series against the San Jose Sharks, they'll have to do so without one of their best young players in an arena that's hasn't been kind recently to opponents.
The Predators will be without Alexander Radulov when they meet the Sharks on Monday night in Game 3 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series.
Radulov is serving a one-game suspension handed down by the league Saturday for checking San Jose forward Steve Bernier from behind 4:44 into the second period of Nashville's 5-2 win in Game 2 on Friday night. Radulov, who had a goal and assist in just over six minutes of ice time, received a five-minute major and a game misconduct.
"I think it was a penalty but I don't know if it was a game misconduct," Radulov told the Predators' official Web site. "I don't think that I hit him from behind. I hit him for his shoulder. I watched the replay and I hit him in the shoulder."
Nashville's first-round pick in the 2004 draft, Radulov had 18 goals and 19 assists in 64 games during his rookie season this year, but has been one of the Predators' top offensive players in this series. He scored twice in a 5-4 overtime loss in Game 1 on Wednesday night.
Radulov's four points are tied with J.P. Dumont for the team lead in the playoffs, and Nashville coach Barry Trotz defended his young star.
"Rads isn't a dirty player, he had 26 penalty minutes," Trotz said. "He's a goal scorer. They were targeting him all night. Rad is probably the least dirty player we've got."
San Jose coach Ron Wilson believed Radulov's suspension wasn't long enough for an incident that appeared as if it would sideline Bernier for the remainder of the series. Though he was groggy while being helped off the ice, Bernier practiced Sunday and said he could play.
"I feel good," Bernier told the Sharks' official Web site. "I woke up today with no headache and feel ready to go."
Wilson said a bigger concern heading into this contest could be the chippy play that resulted in nearly 100 penalty minutes in Friday's third period, which featured a fight between Nashville's Jordin Tootoo and San Jose's Ryane Clowe as part of a melee with 1 minute to play.
"Tootoo asked Clowe to fight and he started the whole thing going," Wilson said. "I imagine had Tootoo not challenged Clowe, nothing would have happened. The cheap shots have come from them."
With the league apparently keeping a closer eye on this series now, San Jose returns to HP Pavilion where it was 7-0-1 in its final eight home games, and 25-12-4 overall this season.
"Good news is we go home; we have a good chance to play in front of our fans. I'm sure they're excited to see us again," said San Jose forward Joe Thornton.
Nashville, meanwhile, was 23-15-3 on the road but struggled down the stretch. Over their final 14 road games, the Predators had losing streaks of four and five games en route to a 5-6-3 record. They were 1-1-0 this season in San Jose, including a 4-3 shootout win on Feb. 28 on goals by Radulov and Dumont.
Peter Forsberg, who scored twice in Game 2, said it will be tough trying to silence the Sharks' home crowd.
"They are going to have their crowd, and it's going to be a little tougher than (Nashville)," he said. "We definitely have to play better than we did (in Game 2) if we are going to beat them down there."
The Predators allowed nine goals total in two losses at San Jose during last season's opening round of the playoffs.
Game 4 is scheduled for Wednesday night in San Jose.