Avalanche’s Nazem Kadri makes it his mission to be the villain, with a hat-trick in Game 4


Avalanche's Nazem Kadri makes it his mission to be the villain, with a hat-trick in Game 4

ST. LOUIS — Nazem Kadri stared at the middle fingers. He silenced the booing crowd. He celebrated. he pushed.

And, most problematic for his opponents, he scored. Pretty much.

“I think he liked being the bad guy tonight,” said teammate Erik Johnson after the Avalanche’s 6-3 Game 4 win over the Blues on Monday. “He definitely stood up for us.”

Kadri said after the game that the last two days had been turbulent. In Game 3 on Saturday, he and St. Louis defenseman Calle Rosen collided with Blues goalie Jordan Binnington, injuring the St. Louis goaltender. After the injury, Kadri received threats and anti-Islamic messages, and the Avalanche released a statement on Sunday saying they were working with local law enforcement to investigate. TSN’s Darren Dreger reported on the increased security measures taken by the police both in the team hotel and in the arena.

“I know what has been said doesn’t reflect every single fan in St. Louis. I understand that and I want to make that clear,” Kadri said. “But I feel sorry for those who wasted their time sending messages like this.”

He said the situation only gave him fuel. And he had exactly the impact the Blues didn’t want, scoring a hat-trick and getting under their skin throughout the game.

“I just want to say how proud we are of Naz for going through all that crap over the past few days,” said Johnson, taking stock of his own Monday. “Nobody should have to go through that. He certainly answered.”

After trailing 1-0 in the first half of Game 4, Colorado came out with a horn’s nest hum in the second frame, perhaps with some subtle help from the blues organist playing a rendition of Blink-182’s “All Die.” little things.” At the Avalanche games in Denver, the jam serves as the third-period anthem when Colorado holds onto a lead. And as if by Pavlovian reply, the Avalanche players broke goalkeeper Ville Husso, who had kept them scoreless in the first game. Johnson equalized and it was less than two minutes before the Avalanche scored again, marking the beginning of Kadri’s involvement on the scorer’s chart.

With 16 minutes to go, Valeri Nichushkin met Kadri with a long pass and set up a two-on-one rush. Kadri took one look at teammate Mikko Rantanen, who had joined him at the break, but opted to shoot himself and stuck the puck just under Husso’s glove.

The Avalanche center, who has been booed every time he touched the puck since Binnington’s injury, put his hand to his ear and his message was clear: I can’t hear you now.

“I appreciate (the boos),” Kadri said. “I like it when the fans get involved in the game and have something to cheer about. If you want to boo, definitely. That doesn’t bother me at all.”

On the contrary, it seems. That’s what he feeds on. Devon Toews scored and with the Avalanche 3-1 up, Kadri angered Blues forward David Perron by jostling him after a whistle. St. Louis forward Pavel Buchnevich responded by shoving Kadri onto the ice, and as Kadri got up, Perron threw him back onto the ice and then dove on top of him.

The result: Perron and Buchnevich sat in the penalty area, Colorado got a five-on-three power play.

“These are just stupid penalties that we took and it hurt them,” said Kadri. “If you lose your nerve, we’ll make you pay for it.”

Johnson added: “We’re just going to stay out of these things. We’ll look the other way. It’s not about the ego; it’s about winning.”

In fact, Colorado used the two-man advantage. Although the Avalanche technically didn’t score while Perron and Buchnevich were in the box, they created a scoring opportunity right after the power play was over. Rookie Bowen Byram, who took on extra responsibility with Samuel Girard injured, matched Kadri and the veteran sank his second of the night. In less than five minutes, Colorado’s explosive offensive had scored four goals.

As Kadri turned to cheer, Perron tried to elbow him up but he avoided contact and then stared straight into the faces of two blues fans who knocked him out. He bathed in their mockery.

“I think (the middle fingers) came after the celly,” Kadri said. “But hey, I have to rub it in.”

And he continued to do so with his play. The Blues came back, cutting Avalanche’s lead to 4-3 with two power-play goals and raising the stakes for Kadri’s third tally of the evening.

With 10 minutes left in the game, Nichushkin shoved a puck away from Jordan Kyrou, which bounced to Kadri and charged into the slot. He grabbed the puck off the ice and hurled a wrist shot at Husso’s net. The keeper couldn’t stop it with his racquet and Kadri unleashed his third and final after-goal celebration of the evening, dropping to one knee and punching the air.

“I wanted to come out tonight and really put a stamp on this game, especially after what happened,” he said. “I was able to strike early in the second period and start the mojo, both individually and as a team. So it felt incredible. Especially to do it on the street. It was pure.”

Kadri has had four goals and two assists in his last two games, and all six of his points came after St. Louis fans started booing every time he touched the puck. He scored a final point on Monday, assisting Rantanen’s empty net to make it 6-3.

After the game, Bednar said the team overcame the threats towards Kadri and was focused on winning. However, the coach acknowledged that the center himself may have a harder time concentrating than others, considering the threats and messages were aimed at him.

“He proved tonight that he’s capable of that,” Bednar said. “He knows we are all with him.”

That Kadri shows up under bright lights shouldn’t come as a surprise. He always has to up the ante with bets while playing golf with friends, childhood pal Jason McNeill said earlier this season, and his wife Ashley has seen how intense he is with his dad and cousins ​​​​​​Pickup – plays basketball. He even hates losing at putt-putt, she says.

“Obviously a great game from him,” Bednar said. “I’m really proud of how he’s handled the last 48 hours and to be able to come out of the pressure like that and perform like that is incredible.”

Kadri drew motivation from more than just the threats and hate speech. He didn’t like it when Craig Berube said, “Look at (Kadri’s) reputation” in response to a question about Kadri’s role in the Binnington collision. The Avalanche Center was naturally suspended for eight games last postseason for hitting Blues defenseman Justin Faulk high, and the league suspended him twice in the playoffs while he was with Toronto.

“[Berube]made some comments that I wasn’t a fan of,” said Kadri, who insists he aimed for the loose puck in front of Binnington’s goalkeeper. “I guess he’s never heard of any bulletin board material.”

He used it to his advantage on Monday and now the Avalanche have a chance to defeat the Blues and their second-round demons when they play on Wednesday.

Game 3 with Binnington’s collision and go-ahead goal is likely to go down in St. Louis — and maybe Denver — as the Nazem Kadri Game.

Well, sequels can’t always do the originals justice. But in front of a building filled with boos on Monday, Kadri made sure that wasn’t the case this time.

(Photo: Dilip Vishwanat / Getty Images)

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