TAMPA — Notwithstanding the fact that Nazem Kadri struggled to shoot anything near full capacity.
That didn’t stop the Colorado Avalanche star from emerging from the press box on Wednesday night to score the most important goal of his career by defeating Andrei Vasilevskiy with a perfect shot that found the microscopic space between the blocker and under the right armpit Tampa Bay Lightning All-World Goalie at 12:02 of first overtime.
The shot wasn’t a change, but it wasn’t full throttle either.
It was a rolling puck that came off the blade of Kadri’s racquet, fooling Vasilevskiy and giving the Avalanche a 3-1 lead after a 3-2 win at the Amalie Arena.
“Oh man, a rollercoaster of emotions,” Kadri said, speaking to media for the first time since Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals. “I just thought I was done and then had a glimmer of hope (post-op).
“To sit here now is kind of surreal. I’m just looking forward to being part of the team again and being in the dressing room. I’ve been waiting for this pretty much my whole life.”
The mere presence of Kadri in the lineup would be enough to give the Avalanche an emotional boost.
The fact that he penned the defining moment in this pivotal game was really something to watch.
“Bold performance, you know? We’ve put a lot of work into making sure he can not only come back and play, but come back and do his best with his injury,” said Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar. “It’s not easy to recover from an injury like that. It just goes to show how dedicated he was.”
Kadri’s commitment was never in question.
It was always about when, not if, he returned to the Stanley Cup Finals.
“You know he wouldn’t go down easily. It’s an inspiration to everyone else to see a teammate try to come back and fight every day to try to get better and finally be back in the lineup,” said Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog. “No doubt it was exciting for us and gave us a different look. You can’t invent that stuff. Big in overtime and great to see.”
Kadri made a deft move to get inside and while he was pretty sure the shot had beaten Vasilevskiy, there was a moment where he wondered if the game was over or not.
“I tried to go to the other side. You know, I knew I had a pretty good shot and might have had a chance,” Kadri said. “I actually thought it was in originally, but then Vasilevskiy kind of fooled me. I thought it might be stuck between his arm. He was kind of swimming in the crease and I thought he might have had it.
“It was certainly a few seconds of confusion and then I just saw every bull racing across the ice. That’s when I knew it was confirmed. It feels good to have made it.”
Kadri was asked a question about Lightning head coach Jon Cooper’s cryptic suggestion that the play should have been called off due to an illegal change coming on the ice early for Nathan MacKinnon.
“I’m not quite sure what he thinks why it shouldn’t have counted. That confuses me a bit,” Kadri said. “The puck hit the back of the net, end of story. I’m not sure why he would say that.”
Based on his progress over the past week, Kadri was able to build to this point and eventually convinced Bednar that it was time to reinstate him.
“He worked towards it,” Bednar said. “Mostly a lot of talking to the coaches. And if he then thought about it in the last few days and approached me, then I spoke to him. I want to know what he can, what he can’t, if anything, how he feels about it to make sure he’s confident he can come back and help.
“I don’t want him there if he can’t play properly and achieve what we need to achieve. He was pretty sure, (I) liked how his skates turned out, so obviously we want a player of his caliber in the line-up.”
Kadri didn’t disappoint although it took him a while to get used to the pace of the game, which is difficult when you go into a series of this intensity knowing what is at stake for both teams.
With the thumb injury he’s fighting through, Kadri was deployed on the left wing, while Valeri Nichushki moved to the right and Landeskog moved to the center, taking all responsibility in the faceoff circle.
By the time the night was over and the celebration was winding down, Kadri had taken 26 shifts for 18:42 ice time, recording two shots on target and five shot attempts while adding a hit.
“It says a lot[about]what we already know,” MacKinnon said. “A super resilient human being, a huge boost for us to get this guy back.”
After getting back under control for the last four games with an injury picked up in Game 3 of the last round against the Edmonton Oilers when Evander Kane pinned him against the boards from behind, Kadri reckons he will continue will make an impression.
This was a brave performance by the Avalanche, who rallied to win, though Anthony Cirelli gave up a goal 36 seconds into the contest and was shot poorly with a 17-4 lead (although shot attempts were 23-22 for Tampa Bay). ).
MacKinnon scored his first goal of the series and shared a laugh with a reporter when the topic was brought up.
Oddly enough, it wasn’t a one-timer or highlight reel special, but instead a shot from Mikko Rantanen went off the pad by Vasilevskiy and sped in off the skate by MacKinnon.
Finally the engine of the avalanche offensive was on the board and you can be sure that that brought a sense of relief.
Speaking of relief, Darcy Kuemper’s determined play was also a major storyline, with the Avalanche goaltender making 37 saves after drawing from Game 3 (5 goals in 22 shots he gave up).
Kuemper not only played level with Vasilevskiy, he started the game on the overtime winner by playing a perfect pass at the zone exit to Artturi Lehkonen, who substituted on Kadri for the shot that sealed the deal.
“I just thought he was fighting. I mean, I never doubt his caring, his attempt,” Bednar said. “I think you go through our lineup, there are people who had bad games in the playoffs. It’s just so much bigger when it’s a goalie because he’s your last line of defense.”
The Stanley Cup will be held at the building on Friday night and the Avalanche now have three cracks to win it for the first time since 2001.
This group has been fixated on a single goal since training camp and has made a habit of eliminating the narratives of previous playoff disappointments one by one.
This next one will be their stiffest yet, but one of the leaders of this Avalanche force made it clear that they would not be overwhelmed by this moment.
“We just have to keep at it and do what we’ve been doing all season. That’s what we’re going to preach,” MacKinnon said. “Obviously they’re probably preaching, ‘They’ve never been here, they’re going to get tight,’ and that’s fair. But we’ll be ready to go. We’ve been under great pressure in all the playoffs and all season.”
https://www.sportsnet.ca/nhl/article/kadri-pushes-avalanche-to-brink-of-glory-in-return-its-kind-of-surreal/ Kadri pushes Avalanche to brink of glory in return: ‘It’s kind of surreal’