The Colorado Avalanche are on the verge of realizing their huge potential after the storybook, albeit controversial, ended in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
After missing the first three games of the series with a surgically reconstructed thumb, Nazem Kadri scored a partial breakaway overtime goal to help the Avalanche to a 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Stanley Cup.
Kadri’s superb and unlikely win ruined a brilliant performance by Tampa Bay’s Andrey Vasilevskiy, who had thwarted the Avalanche’s inspirational try by this point, making 35 saves in the game, including 10 in overtime.
It was the only clean goal scored by Vasilevsky on the evening when the Avalanche had to look for other means. The Avalanche drew twice before Kadri gave his team their first and only lead, with Nathan McKinnon scoring his first goal of the series on a lucky deflection and Nico Sturm also using a lucky rebound to register his first in the playoffs.
Vasilevsky’s teammate Darcy Kemper was also busy, making 37 saves. His only shortcomings came from goals by Anthony Cirelli and Victor Hedman.
Kemper also contributed to the offense by moving the puck across the ice to earn a second assist on winner Kadri.
Which brings us to a controversy that we weren’t aware of until John Cooper briefly and emotionally met with reporters before offering a bizarre cliffhanger.
The Lightning head coach promised in a media meeting that we would see evidence that the Bolts were to “still play” once the winner Kadri was looked at more critically.
While it’s not immediately clear, it should be noted that after Kemper pushed the puck back onto the ice and it found Kadri’s stick, one of the Avalanche players, McKinnon, did not complete the substitution.
By the letter of the law, Cooper – a former attorney – has a valid point with six Avalanche skaters on the ice in possession of the puck. And for that reason, Lightning fans will be distressed by what they wouldn’t have noticed without Cooper’s theatrics, while Avalanche fans and most others will argue that McKinnon’s inability to jump overboard had nothing to do with the play.
On closer inspection, it turned out that Lightning on Ice had additions as well, as both teams worked on making changes.
It’s worth reading Cooper’s entire post-game press, which included a long and dramatic preface, before making his point.
Cooper’s remarks shouldn’t detract from the evening’s most important headline, which is that Kadri has reached the pinnacle of his personal redemptive arc.
Hockey players were heartbroken by Kadri when the talented forward, who was finally able to control his emotions in the postseason after consecutive seasons of letting his teams down with a dirty and punishing game, was injured by Evander Kane’s reckless push to the Western Conference Finals.
There were no promises that Kadri would be able to play in the NHL championship, let alone contribute at a high level. And after a slightly slow start to the game and some apparent delay on his part as he held a supposedly unwieldy guard on his thumb, it looked like Qadri might not have been able to provide momentum.
Of course, Kadri jumped into the game before brilliantly beating Mikhail Sergachev, creating a scoring opportunity that sent the puck under Vasilevsky’s arm and into the net.
With the return of Kadri and the Tampa Briden Point comeback story that didn’t bear fruit, the Avalanche have clearly become a fresher and more complete team.
And now they have three chances to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup in 21 years, with the first coming Friday night in Denver.
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