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Radulov ready for postseason return

4/11/2012

In his short time as Alexander Radulov's teammate, Mike Fisher has learned one thing about Radulov: He's passionate about the game. Extremely passionate.

"He loves hockey as much as anyone I've seen," Fisher said on Tuesday after practice. "He just loves to play; he brings a lot of excitement that is contagious."

The Predators teammates who know Radulov best didn't need to be reminded of his exuberance. The last time he played in the NHL playoffs, in 2008 against Detroit, Radulov's celebration concussed teammate Jason Arnott after Arnott's goal late in the third period of Game 3 gave Nashville the lead. Arnott wasn't the same in that series, and the Red Wings went on to win in six.

Former Predators goalie Dan Ellis was on the other end of the ice and witnessed the crazy scene when Radulov took down Arnott, who at 6-foot-5 isn't an easy guy to bring to the ice.

"It wasn't one of those situations where he was trying to hurt Jason; he was so extremely excited that he decided, 'Hey, I'm going to jump off the ice and bear-hug him,'" Ellis said during a Tuesday evening phone conversation. "Rad does a lot of stuff just out of emotion. He's not trying to do stuff that hurts the team. He gets so caught up in emotion and his body just takes over. That was one of those situations."

Radulov's game has matured and developed in the four years that have passed since he last played in the playoffs, but Shea Weber isn't taking any chances Wednesday night when Radulov makes his return to the NHL postseason.

"If he scores any goals, I'm going to get out of the way and try to stay healthy," Weber joked. "He's obviously excited."

Radulov scored two goals in that 2008 series against the Red Wings and had three goals in four games as a 20-year-old the previous postseason. That's pretty good production, and the Radulov who will be hitting the ice Wednesday night is a better player than the one who left for Russia in 2008.

He has three goals in the nine NHL games since he returned from the KHL this season, but this postseason could end up being where he makes his biggest splash. Red Wings forward Jiri Hudler has made the transition from the KHL to the NHL, and he thinks coming so quickly after the KHL's season ended is a positive for Radulov.

"It's different hockey, that's for sure. The ice is way bigger there. I thought it would be easier, to be honest," Hudler said. "But he was the best player there. He was the leader."

Radulov was the star the KHL built itself around. He is the league's all-time leading scorer and won a championship last year.

"I'm pretty sure he'll be a star [here], too," Hudler said.

More than any adjustment to the different leagues, Ellis believes Radulov's biggest challenge on the huge postseason stage will be playing within coach Barry Trotz's system. Radulov is coming from a league where he was the centerpiece. He played in every situation. Now, he's another cog in a system that depends on dependable and predictable play. Even more so this time of year.

"They win a lot of games based on their structure, not one guy being the guy," Ellis said. "He has to pick and choose when to take his chances and when to play it safe."

Finding the switch

We got a glimpse of how dangerous the San Jose Sharks can be this time of year when they swept all four of their final crucial games against Pacific rivals Dallas and Los Angeles. As one coach put it, it was almost like they wanted to wind the clock and fast-forward to this time of year. We'll find out soon if the Sharks can keep the switch in the "on" position against a talented St. Louis Blues team.

The Detroit Red Wings hope to operate the same way. Detroit is a veteran team that was banged up to finish the season and didn't exactly pile up wins down the stretch. But the Red Wings are getting healthy, and when I asked Johan Franzen on Monday when he expected this team to be operating at 100 percent efficiency, he said it won't be long.

"Two days away," he said, pointing to Wednesday night's postseason opener. He said Detroit's return to health has been key, plus the veterans have a little more to give this time of year.

"A lot of guys have been waiting for this to really crank it up to another level," he said. "It's going to be fun. It's usually fun to play in the playoffs with this team."

That's why there's a danger in analyzing too closely the regular-season performance of some veteran teams in the postseason. The best teams find another gear.

"It is a max effort [during the regular season] but it's so many different things that go into the perfect game," Franzen said. "It's not like anyone is playing 95 percent out there. Everyone is playing 100 percent. It's a lot of stuff driven by the mind."

Notes

• Radulov is already the kind of player who will bring max energy to the postseason, but he also has a little extra motivation. He's a restricted free agent whose price tag increases with every playoff goal he scores and every round Nashville wins. "Maybe he is [excited] to play hard to maybe sign next year," pointed out Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk.

There's a good chance Radulov will see a heavy dose of Datsyuk this series, and the Preds right wing is embracing the challenge. The respect factor among the two players is high. "I think he's the best player in the NHL. I honestly think that," Radulov said on Tuesday of Datsyuk. "Offense, he's awesome; defense, he's a really good player. When he's going, Detroit is going. That's the thing."

Each has a chance to be the leading scorer in this series, but Radulov said Datsyuk's defense makes him stand out. "He's strong, the way he sees the ice," Radulov said. "He reads the play. That's the thing, he's never out of position."

Anaheim Ducks goalie Dan Ellis, who played only 10 games this season because of a torn groin, said he's completely healthy heading into another important summer for him. The Ducks have told him they won't be signing him, so he'll hit unrestricted free agency on July 1.

Two years ago when Ellis hit free agency, he was one of the hottest commodities on the market. The Canadiens traded for his rights, but Ellis ended up signing a two-year deal worth $3 million with the Lightning. He went 21-10-7 with a 2.77 goals-against in 44 games with the Ducks and Lightning. In 10 games this season, he was 1-5-0 with a .911 save percentage. He's made himself available to Team Canada for the World Championship, which would give teams an opportunity to see him healthy. If not, he's ready for anything. "Sometimes you have to take a step back in your career to move forward," he said.

One possible option? Predators GM David Poile will be getting plenty of calls to deal goalie Anders Lindback, with the Lightning, Blue Jackets and Maple Leafs among the teams looking to add a starting goalie. With the potential for serious raises coming for Radulov, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, Ellis would be a cost-effective option to back up Pekka Rinne.