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Colorado’s Nazem Kadri returns to put Tampa on the brink


Nazem Kadri made his Stanley Cup Finals debut a memorable moment.

The former Maple Leafs star, playing his first game in 18 days due to surgery to repair a broken thumb, scored in overtime to put the Colorado Avalanche one win away from hoisting the Stanley Cup. Their 3-2 win on Wednesday gave them a 3-1 series lead.

“I’ve been waiting for this all my life,” Kadri said. “I thought I would stop waiting and just join in the fun. I am grateful to be in this position. I couldn’t have written a better story, so I’m grateful.

Kadri kicked Mikhail Sergachev and lifted the puck under Andrei Vasilevskiy’s right arm. He settled between the back bar and the top net and there was momentary confusion as to where the puck went.

“I just tried to make a little move and go far,” Kadri told ESPN afterwards. “I guess that’s where it happened. I don’t know if he found a hole. A little delayed reaction. I thought he made the save for a second, but then people rushed at me. It’s a good feeling.

The Avalanche can end the series Friday at Ball Arena in Denver.

“Great win, coming home I have to win one more. We deserved this win. We dominated OT. We had a good third period. Good momentum going into the fifth game,” said the winger of the Avalanche Nathan MacKinnon.

It was the second overtime game of the series and the Lightning lost both.

“They had the breaks. A tough loss,” Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman said.

“Every game is an opportunity,” added Lightning captain Steve Stamkos. “The feeling sucks to lose, but the streak wasn’t won tonight. It stings right now, but we have to go (to Denver) and win a hockey game.”

This win bodes well for the Avalanche. Teams with a 3-1 lead in a best-of-seven hold an all-time series record of 298-31 (.906), including 2-1 (.667) in 2022, and a 35-1 ( .972) scores in the Stanley Cup Finals.

“It’s going to be tough,” Kadri said. “The last is the hardest to win.”

It was an unlikely battle between the goalkeepers on Wednesday, as Darcy Kuemper took on Vasilevskiy save for save. Kuemper gave up a goal to Anthony Cirelli just 36 seconds into the game, but then asserted himself. Only Hedman beat him again.

Vasilevskiy was barely tested in the first half, facing just four shots. But Colorado found their game and did their best to try and get their hands on the series, scoring the kind of fat goals that really are the only kind that would beat Vasilevskiy. MacKinnon got credit for a power-play goal on his skate, then Nico Sturm sent the puck into the chest of teammate Andrew Cogliano, the puck deflecting past Vasilevskiy early in the third period to tie the game 2-2 and put the Amalie Crowd of the arena at the edge of their seats.

The arena, in their own way, may need new carpeting in the Lightning hallway leading to the coaches’ room, with so many of their players leaving the game and returning after putting themselves in harm’s way. Cirelli, who took a shoulder skate on a fall, and Erik Cernak, who blocked a shot, were among the latest examples of Lightning players sacrificing themselves for the greater good.

If the Lightning have any issues besides staying healthy, it’s on their special teams. Colorado’s power play is catching on with Tampa Bay’s penalty killers. And the Lightning just haven’t converted when they have the man advantage. It didn’t matter in the third period when the referees put away their whistles despite blatant penalties that would have been called at any other time in the playoffs, including a trip on Hedman who disallowed a run, a trip on Kadri who denied a shot on goal, and a hook on Nick Paul of the Lightning past Kuemper.

Kadri returns

Kadri was back two weeks after having thumb surgery, wearing padding under his right glove to protect the thumb from the inevitable nicks to come. But it’s that time of year, with just a few games left, where the players will simply fight their way to the finish line.

“Most guys have a little something going on and in these games guys are rushing through injuries and doing whatever they can to help the team,” said Mikko Rantanen of Colorado. “Naz is a great player for us. So it’s nice to see him back on the ice and working again.

Cogliano, who missed Game 1 of the Cup Final after injuring his hand in Game 4 of the conference final against Edmonton, explained the motivation to speed up the schedule to return.

“That’s why we play… (for) times like this and to have this opportunity,” Cogliano said. “You are doing everything in your power to come back and contribute and the timeline…obviously is speeding up a bit. So yeah, I think the adrenaline is going up because you want to come back and you want to help your team.

lighting stroke

Cirelli’s early goal slammed the tongue out that Avalanche coach Jared Bednar made the wrong decision in picking Kuemper, who had a tough third game and was ultimately drawn in favor of Pavel Francouz. But Kuemper proved his worth the rest of the first period. It was Tampa Bay at its strongest, beating Colorado 17-4. Kuemper robbed Paul, who hopped on a turnover, and Stamkos, on his patented one-timer, to keep the game close for the first 20 minutes.

Seesaw

Considering 22 goals were scored in the first three games, it was pretty odd considering MacKinnon had none. His 11 goals were tied for second most in the playoffs. And he was playing well, a dynamo on skates making plays on the fly. Maybe he was trying too hard, some thought. Finally, he scored. And what a goal scorer. Hmm. Off his skate. He had started the game, however, skated towards the net and Rantanen’s pass – he was aiming for Gabe Landeskog – hit MacKinnon’s skate and barely beat Vasilevskiy. But a goal is a goal, and the power-play scorer tied the game at 5:17 of the second.

Colorado was much better in the second, beating Tampa 16-9, but still trailed 2-1 heading into the third. Hedman, who took the penalty that led to MacKinnon’s goal, redeemed himself by leading a rush down the ice and beating Kuemper with a clumsy backhand.

Goals galore

  • Coming into Game 4, it had been one of the most dramatic playoffs. By Game 3, 549 goals had been scored this postseason, the sixth-most in four playoff rounds in NHL history and the most in 29 years (581 in 1993).
  • There were at least seven goals scored in each of the first three games in the final. Only two championship series in NHL history have seen this happen in the first four games: 1980 and 1918.

  • Lightning forward Corey Perry has scored in the Stanley Cup Finals for a record four teams: Anaheim, Dallas, Montreal and Tampa Bay.

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