Compared to the Nazem Kadri we saw before the hand injury in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, the Nazem Kadri we saw in Game 4 wasn’t even on the same planet.
You could tell he still wasn’t 100 percent despite what coach Jared Bednar told ESPN during Wednesday’s first period.
Kadri, one of Colorado’s elite offensive players, had only one chance in regulation and generally wasn’t as effective as we’re used to seeing. And that’s exactly what we expected. But what he did – or didn’t do – in the first 60 minutes didn’t matter.
All that mattered was overtime, and after 12:02 in the extra frame, he converted a breakaway goal, scoring a goal that no one thought about at first, winning against Andrey Vasilevsky. It was an awkward holiday for Avalanche, but they didn’t care.
They are one step away from winning the Stanley Cup.
Kadri’s status was a big topic of conversation at every practice and morning test before game four. He’s been skating at the club for the past two days, but he seemed to be struggling to make quality shots – sure, it was practice, but he looked in visible pain. But Kadri got into the line-up on Wednesday, and although he didn’t make it past the 20-minute mark, Bednar felt comfortable throwing him into the fire no matter what.
Before the injury, Kadri was one of the leading candidates for Conn Smythe with 14 points in 13 games. It came just after the campaign with 87 points for Colorado, the best result of his career. Losing a player of the caliber of Kadri would be fatal for most teams, but not for the Avalanche.
It’s a great story that a guy coming back from an injury scored because really anyone could have done it. The Lightning had hitting advantage throughout the game before Colorado’s Avalanche of Opportunity reversed momentum in their do-or-die stanza. All the overtimes were screaming for the wobbly game-winning goal, so of course it had to be the goal no one saw.
Kadri’s determination to get to this point, overcoming obvious pain for glory, cannot be ignored. His typical face-to-face style was absent and he avoided being too physical at the boards. He had a few looks throughout the game, but nothing significant until the OT winner.
If you saw him in training on Tuesday, the thought of seeing him in the lineup seemed far-fetched. You knew he wanted to be there, but hand injuries are very important when you’re counting on scoring every night. Kadri’s absence could have been a turning point for the Avalanche, but their depth made up for it. And when Kadri was ready, he did it.
The Avalanche will have a chance to win it all on home ice on Friday when the Ball Arena is incredibly crowded. The Aves have never lost a Stanley Cup in their entire history, and given how heavily the club has dominated the playoffs, shutting it down at home would be a fitting end to what has been a wild playoff.
And there was no better way for the Avalanche to win Game 4 than to score a goal from the team’s last Wolverine.