TRAIKOS: Kadri is OT hero in return as Avalanche take 3-1 series lead in Stanley Cup final

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

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Nazem Kadri managed to shave that recovery time in half.

The Colorado Avalanche forward, who required surgery to repair a thumb that had been broken on June 4, miraculously returned to the ice for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final on Wednesday. It could be that Kadri’s a quick healer. But chances are the thumb was not 100% healed.

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Then again, everybody’s banged up at this time of year. “It’s just about managing, I guess, the pain he’s dealing with,” said Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar.

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

Knowing Kadri, who had scored six goals and 14 points before getting hit from behind in Game 3 of the West final, the pain of missing any more of the Stanley Cup final was probably worse than how his thumb might have been feeling. But his earlier-than-expected return from him also spoke to Colorado’s desperation level in a series that was in danger of slipping through their banged-up fingers.

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That is no longer the case following a 3-2 overtime win, where Kadri put on a show by deking around defenseman Mikhail Sergachev and beating goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy with a gorgeous goal at 12:02 in overtime.

It was what the Avalanche had been hoping for. And it put them one win away from winning a championship. Game 5 is in Colorado on Friday.

Kadri, who skated on the wing on a line with Gabriel Landeskog and Valeri Nichushkin, had been a non-factor most of the game. His best chance for him came in the first period, when he sailed a wrist shot that clipped Andrei Vasilevskiy’s glove hand. But for the most part, his shots lacked purpose.

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But he saved his best for the end.

This was a game of greasy goals and lucky bounces. One goal knocked in off the goalie’s mask. Another went off to skate. Another off a knee. In the playoffs, this is what you get. Not every game is going to be a blowout. The playoffs are a grind. And by the end of it, it’s whoever can grind the hardest.

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Right now, that appears to be Colorado, even though it didn’t look like it at the start.

The game had just begun when Tampa Bay’s Anthony Cirelli gave the Lighting a 1-0 lead 36 seconds after the opening puck drop. It was a somewhat controversial goal. With several Colorado players expecting a whistle after a point shot had knocked Darcy Kuemper’s mask clean off the goalie’s head, Cirelli pounced on the loose puck for his second of the Stanley Cup final.

From there, Tampa Bay kept attacking.

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

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This is how you win a championship. How you win back-to-back championships. It cannot always be just skill and scoring goals. When you get this far, you also have to be able to smother a team to death.

In Games 1 and 2, Colorado’s speed was too much for Tampa Bay to handle. Since then, it’s been as if the Avalanche is moving in slow motion. Or through 200 feet of mud.

They can’t seem to find any room on the ice. When they do, there’s a bunch of sticks and bodies in the way. As a result, Colorado had to resort to the kind of goals that won’t be ending up on any highlight-reel clips.

With Tampa Bay leading 1-0, the Avalanche tied things up on the power play in the second period, when Nathan MacKinnon scored his first goal of the Stanley Cup final on a shot that pinballed off the back of his skates.

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About five minutes later, Tampa Bay regained its lead when defenseman Victor Hedman, who seemed to want to rush the puck every chance he got it, skated past a couple of flat-footed defenders and then beat Kuemper with a backhand that he should have stopped. .

Give Colorado credit. They wouldn’t go away, they wouldn’t quit. Trailing by one, the Avalanche tied the game early in the third period on another bodily bounce. This time, it was Nico Sturm who redirected a point shot on net, then followed up his rebound and banked a shot that seemed to go off Andrew Cogliano’s knee.

That is the way it stayed until overtime, though it wasn’t for a lack of chances.

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

Eventually, Colorado broke through. And they couldn’t have picked a bigger hero.

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