TRAIKOS: Kadri is the OT hero as Avalanche leads the series 3-1

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TAMPA, Florida — Depending on the severity of the injury, it can take a minimum of six weeks for a broken bone to heal completely.

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Nazem Kadri managed to cut that recovery time in half.

The Colorado Avalanche forward, who required surgery to repair a broken thumb on June 4, miraculously returned to the ice for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday. It could be that Kadri is a fast healer. But chances are, the thumb wasn’t 100% healed.

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Then again, everyone is devastated this time of year. “It’s just about managing, I think, the pain that he’s dealing with,” said Avalanche coach Jared Bednar.

Avalanche forward Nazem Kadri, left, defends Ondrej Palat, right, from the Lightning during the third period of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, Wednesday, June 22, 2022.
Avalanche forward Nazem Kadri, left, defends Ondrej Palat, right, from the Lightning during the third period of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, Wednesday, June 22, 2022. Photo by Mike Carlson /Getty Images

Knowing Kadri, who scored six goals and 14 points before being hit from behind in Game 3 of the Western Finals, the pain of missing out on the Stanley Cup Finals was probably worse than your thumb can be feeling. But his earlier-than-expected return also spoke to Colorado’s level of desperation in a series that was in danger of slipping through its bruised fingers.

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That is no longer the case after a 3-2 victory in overtime, where Kadri put on a show as he skirted defender Mikhail Sergachev and defeated goalkeeper Andrei Vasilevskiy with a beautiful goal at 12:02 in overtime.

“This is what I’ve been waiting for all my life,” Kadri said. “Sitting here right now is kind of surreal.”

It was also exactly what the Avalanche had hoped for. And it gave them a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, with a chance to win a championship in Game 5 in Colorado on Friday.

Kadri, who skated on the wing in a row with Gabriel Landeskog and Valeri Nichushkin, was a non-factor for most of the game. His best chance came in the first period, when he landed a kick to the wrist that cut Andrei Vasilevskiy’s glove hand. But most of the time, his shots were pointless.

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“I’m not surprised, to be honest with you. That’s the kind of guy he is. He will do anything to win,” said Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog. “It wasn’t easy coming back, but playing for what’s on the line now, you know he wasn’t going to go down easy. It was an inspiration for all to see.”

For Toronto Maple Leafs fans, however, it was more of a reminder of what they once had — and what they’ve traded. Kadri was the player they hoped would be a Stanley Cup hero for them. But after being suspended from the 2018 and 2019 playoffs for illegal hits that ended up costing Toronto’s playoff wins against Boston, he was taken.

Years later, everything is falling into place for the 31-year-old center.

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This year was his debut year, with Kadri scoring 87 points in 71 games. But it was in the playoffs where he really excelled. That’s what made his injury so devastating. And it’s also what made his return such a welcome sight.

Kadri, who skated on the wing in a row with Gabriel Landeskog and Valeri Nichushkin, was a non-factor in most of the regulation. His best chance came in the first period, when he landed a kick to the wrist that cut Andrei Vasilevskiy’s glove hand. But with his thumb still up, his shots were mostly pointless.

That was, until overtime, when he pulled the deke inside out around Sergachev and past Vasilevskiy who seemed to disappear into the net.

“He delivers when we needed him to,” Bednar said.

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This was a game of greasy goals and lucky jumps. A goal knocked off the goalkeeper’s mask. Another fell off a skateboard. Another off one knee. In the playoffs, that’s what you get. Not every game is going to be a blast. The playoffs suck. And in the end, it’s who can grind the most. And apparently who had the biggest chance.

At the moment it appears to be Colorado, whose winning goal probably shouldn’t have counted because Avalanche looked like they had too many men on the ice as Kadri entered the offensive zone.

“It’s going to be hard for me to say,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper, who was on the verge of tears as he answered a question and then left. “You’ll see what I mean when you see the winning goal. And my heart breaks for the players. Because we should probably still be playing. I will be available (on Friday). My heart is broken for the players.”

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It was a rough end to a series that could have swung either way. Unfortunately for Lightning, they are now one win away from having their three-peat bid thwarted.

This was a game that Tampa Bay should have won. The game had just begun when Tampa Bay’s Anthony Cirelli gave the Lighting a 1-0 lead 36 seconds after the opening puck dropped. It was a somewhat controversial goal. With several Colorado players waiting for a whistle after a point shot ripped Darcy Kuemper’s mask off the goalie’s head, Cirelli capitalized on the loose puck for his second in the Stanley Cup Finals.

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Lightning had 17 shots in the first period alone – one more than in their entire 7-0 loss in Game 2. But it was the Tampa Bay defense that was far more impressive. Clogging up the neutral zone and blocking countless shots, they made a defensive clinic against the high-flying Avalanche, yielding very little in the process.

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With Tampa Bay up 1-0, Avalanche evened things out on power play in the second period when Nathan MacKinnon scored his first goal in the Stanley Cup Finals on a shot that hit the back of his skates.

About five minutes later, Tampa Bay regained the lead when defender Victor Hedman, who seemed to want to rush the puck every chance he got, skated past some flat-footed defenders and then defeated Kuemper with a backhand he should have stopped. .

Give Colorado credit. They wouldn’t leave, they wouldn’t give up. Down by one, Avalanche tied the game early in the third period with another body bounce. This time it was Nico Sturm who redirected a point shot into the net, then followed his rebound and landed a shot that appeared to come off Andrew Cogliano’s knee.

It stayed that way until overtime, but it wasn’t for lack of chances.

Colorado really boosted the pace late in the game, with Vasilevskiy stopping Logan O’Connor on a breakaway in overtime and Artturi Lehkonen and Bowen Byram both hitting the posts.

Eventually, Colorado broke through. And they couldn’t have chosen a greater hero.

“That says a lot about what we already know about him,” said Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon. “Super resilient human being. A big boost for us to get that guy back.”

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