TAMPA, Fla. — Nazem Kadri was breathless, fresh out of the pile of Colorado Avalanche player dogs surrounding him after a wild and eerie celebration at a quiet Amalie Arena.
« Wow, » was all Kadri could muster after the match. « Roller coaster of emotions. »
Wow was right. Kadri is the author of a story that even Disney would dismiss as too far-fetched. The guy who could barely shoot due to a surgically repaired, mangled thumb and spent part of the last 10 days unable to grab a stick, managed to float a change on the world’s best goalkeeper in overtime in Game 4 Wednesday night.
“I thought I was done. Then having a glimmer of hope. Staying here right now is kind of surreal,” Kadri explained. “I was just excited to join the team again and be in the locker room. It’s what I’ve been waiting for all my life, so it was definitely exciting to be back in the lineup.
Somewhere, Patrick Kane was nodding his head in approval after Kadri’s overtime winner had shades of Kane’s game-winning goal in Philadelphia in 2010 that no one but Kane seemed to know he was deep in. net. Kadri walked away from the slot thinking he had missed his chance, but the puck was stuck under the bar above Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Unlike Kane, the goal won’t go down in history as the Cup winner, but it could be damn close. Because Lord Stanley’s silver chalice will be at the Ball Arena in Denver on Friday night for Game 5. Colorado has the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning on the ropes in a way they haven’t been in the last 12 series, the Bolts are on the verge of elimination and down two.
« You can’t make this stuff up, » Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “You know he wasn’t going to fall easily. It’s inspiring for everyone to see a teammate like him try to come back and fight every day to try to improve and finally he’s back in the lineup.
Nathan MacKinnon called Kadri a « super tough human being ».
The injury is only a small part of Kadri’s redemption story. The former Toronto castaway had to prove he could stay on the ice this post-season after three season-ending suspensions in four years significantly damaged his reputation. It was ironic and unfortunate that what kept him from playing to start the final was that he was the victim of a cross-check by Evander Kane in the third round which earned him a suspension from ‘a match.
Kadri awkwardly entered the boards. His thumb was twisted and required immediate surgery. The player who said he hated letting people down last spring suddenly found himself out of the lineup – through no fault of his own. It was time for Kadri, after a breakthrough 87-point contract year, to finally make his mark in the playoffs – and it looked like he had the rug pulled out from under him.
The initial prognosis was that the No. 91 would miss the rest of the playoffs. There didn’t seem to be enough recovery time for Kadri to become an effective player in time for the biggest streak of his life.
He only missed four games. Every spring, there seems to be a modern medical miracle in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
« The deadlines are moved up by months, not weeks, » said teammate Andrew Cogliano, who was nursing his own hand injury to start the series.
After the game, an emotional Lightning coach, Jon Cooper, seemed to recognize the depth of Tampa Bay’s hole. They fought valiantly, blocked shots and paid the price, but the truth is the Bolts were outplayed in three of the first four games of the series.
Cooper answered a single question and then walked off after saying Kadri’s goal should have been disallowed but did not explain why. The video replay indicated the Avalanche had one man too many on the ice when Kadri scored, but that didn’t appear to have a significant impact on the game itself.
« You know, I’ve been part of heartbreaking losses and defeats to the teams that knocked us out and I’ve been with a group that just fights and fights and fights. And they fought for a third straight Stanley Cup Final, » Cooper said. « I’m going to have to talk. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. You’ll see what I mean when you see the game-winning goal. And my heart breaks for the players. Because that we should probably still play.
The NHL’s hockey operations department released a statement after the game, saying none of the four on-ice officials — all of whom are eligible to make the man-to-many judgment — saw such a situation.
« In discussing the game-winning goal, each of the four officials indicated that they did not see too many men on the ice situation on play, » the Hockey Operations statement read. « This call is not subject to video review by either Hockey Ops or on-ice officials. »
Kadri said he was confused as to why Cooper thought the goal should have been disallowed. Seemed to be living up to the course of Kadri’s career, with the controversy surrounding the defining moment of his career.
« I don’t really know what he was thinking, why it shouldn’t have counted, » Kadri said. “It confuses me a bit. The puck hit the back of the net. End of the story. »
These are the best stories, the ones you wouldn’t believe if told.