The Nashville Predators hope the return of a familiar face to their lineup is enough to help them cool off Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Looking to win nine straight games at home for the first time in more than 13 years Thursday night, the Penguins face a Predators club that could have forward Alexander Radulov back in uniform following almost four seasons away from the team.
Pittsburgh (45-21-6) is 12-0-1 since a 6-2 loss at Buffalo on Feb. 19, and has become even more potent with Crosby back in the mix. Though he's failed to score in 11 of the 12 contests he's played this season, Crosby has nine assists in four games since returning from his latest bout with concussion-like symptoms.
"There are still areas where I need to get sharper," said Crosby, who had four assists in Tuesday's 8-4 home rout of Winnipeg. "But everyone is playing so well. ... Makes it easier for anyone coming back."
Crosby set up one of James Neal's three goals and Evgeni Malkin increased his NHL-leading point total to 93 with two goals and three assists. Malkin, who topped the 200-goal mark for his career Tuesday, has five along with seven assists in the last five games.
The Penguins have outscored their opponents 34-13 during the eight-game home winning streak - the longest current such stretch in the league. Pittsburgh last won nine in a row at home Jan. 28-Feb. 22, 1999.
"We do have the talent to keep up with any team," said Neal, who has five goals and five assists in the last five games. "Once it starts going it's hard to pull back."
That might not bode well for Nashville (42-23-8), which has dropped three of four overall but should get a boost if Radulov takes the ice.
The 15th overall draft pick in 2004, Radulov recorded 49 goals and 54 assists in 155 games - including playoffs - for the Predators from 2006-08. However, he left after his second season with one year remaining on his entry-level contract to play in Russia for Salavat Yulayev Ufa. Nashville suspended him indefinitely for the move, but kept him under contract as he won two MVP awards in the KHL.
With Radulov's Russian season finished and contract expired, the Predators lifted his suspension Wednesday.
"It certainly wasn't fun in 2008 when he left," Predators general manager David Poile said. "Maybe now we get back a more finished product, a more mature person and player and maybe this works out really good for us. That's certainly what I'm hoping."
Fighting for home-ice advantage in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, Nashville looks to bounce back from a 6-3 home loss to Edmonton on Tuesday. David Legwand scored twice and Patric Hornqvist added a goal with an assist, but the Predators matched a season high for goals allowed.
"I didn't have a problem with the effort or anything," coach Barry Trotz said. "We played hard. It was just one of those things where we couldn't get a bounce or a save, and that's going to happen sometimes."
Legwand has three goals in the last two games, and seven with three assists in 11 career contests versus Pittsburgh.
Crosby had two goals with an assist and Malkin added one of each in the Penguins' 4-3 overtime win at Nashville in the teams' most recent meeting Oct. 21, 2010. The Predators, however, have won two of their last three in Pittsburgh.