ST. LOUIS — Nazem Kadri stared down middle fingers. He silenced the booing crowd. He celebrated. He shoved.
And, most problematically for his opponents, he scored. Quite a bit.
“I think he liked being the villain tonight,” teammate Erik Johnson said after the Avalanche’s 6-3 Game 4 win against the Blues on Monday. “He certainly stepped up for us.”
Kadri said after the game that the past two days have been upsetting. In Game 3 on Saturday, he and St. Louis defenseman Calle Rosen collided with Blues goalie Jordan Binnington, leaving the St. Louis netminder injured. In the injury’s aftermath, Kadri received threatening and Islamophobic messages, and the Avalanche released a statement Sunday saying they were working with local law enforcement to investigate. TSN’s Darren Dreger reported the police enhanced security procedures at both the team hotel and the arena.
“I know what was said isn’t a reflection on every single fan in St. Louis. I understand that and I want to make that clear,” Kadri said. “But for those that wasted their time sending messages like that, I feel sorry for them.”
He said the situation only gave him fuel. And he had exactly the impact the Blues didn’t want, registering a hat trick and getting under their skin throughout the game.
“I just want to say how proud we are of Naz to go through all that crap the last couple days,” said Johnson, who added a tally of his own Monday. “No person should have to go through that. He sure responded.”
After falling behind 1-0 in the first period of Game 4, Colorado came out with the buzz of a wasp’s nest in the second frame, perhaps with some subliminal help from the Blues organist, who played a rendition of Blink-182’s song “All The Small Things.” At Avalanche games in Denver, the jam serves as a third-period anthem when Colorado is holding on to a lead. And, as if by Pavlovian response, the Avalanche players solved goalie Ville Husso, who had held them scoreless in the first. Johnson scored the equalizer, and it took less than two minutes for the Avalanche to score again, marking the beginning of Kadri’s involvement on the scoresheet.
With 16 minutes left in the frame, Valeri Nichushkin found Kadri with a long pass, setting up a two-on-one rush. Kadri glanced at teammate Mikko Rantanen, who had joined him on the break, but opted to shoot himself, tucking the puck just under Husso’s glove.
The Avalanche center, who has been booed every time he’s touched the puck since Binnington’s injury, held his hand to his ear, and his message was clear: I can’t hear you now.
“I appreciate (the boos),” Kadri said. “I like when fans are engaged in the game and have something to cheer about. If you want to boo, by all means. That doesn’t bother me at all.”
Quite the opposite, it appears. He feeds off it. Devon Toews scored, and with the Avalanche up 3-1, Kadri aggravated Blues forward David Perron, bumping him after a whistle. St. Louis forward Pavel Buchnevich responded by shoving Kadri to the ice, and as Kadri started standing up, Perron threw him back to the ice, then dove on top of him.
— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) May 24, 2022
The result: Perron and Buchnevich sat in the penalty box, and Colorado got a five-on-three power play.
“That’s just stupid penalties that we cashed in on, and it hurt them,” Kadri said. “If you lose your cool, we’ll make you pay.”
Added Johnson: “We’re just going to stay out of that stuff. We’re going to look the other way. It’s not about ego; it’s about winning.”
Sure enough, Colorado capitalized on the two-man advantage. Though the Avalanche didn’t technically score while Perron and Buchnevich were in the box, they generated a scoring chance right as the power play expired. Rookie Bowen Byram, who took on added responsibility with Samuel Girard hurt, passed to Kadri, and the veteran potted his second of the night. In fewer than five minutes, the explosive Colorado offense had scored four goals.
As Kadri turned to celebrate, Perron tried to elbow him up high, but he avoided the contact then stared right into the faces of two Blues fans flipping him off. He bathed in their jeers.
Perron after the goal is scored… pic.twitter.com/3yatFCNlf2
— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) May 24, 2022
“I think (the middle fingers) came after the celly,” Kadri said. “But hey, I’ve got to rub it in.”
And he continued to do so with his play. The Blues came back, cutting the Avalanche lead to 4-3 with a pair of power-play goals and setting up higher stakes for Kadri’s third tally of the night.
With 10 minutes left in the game, Nichushkin nudged a puck away from Jordan Kyrou, and it bounced to Kadri, charging into the slot. He snatched the puck from the ice and flung a wrist shot at Husso’s net. The goalie couldn’t manage to stop it with his stick, and Kadri unleashed his third and final post-goal celebration of the night, dropping to a knee and punching the air.
“I wanted to come out tonight and really put a mark on this game, especially after what happened,” he said. “I was able to strike early in the second period and was able to get the mojo going, in terms of individually and as a team. So it felt amazing. Especially to do it on the road. It was pure.”
Kadri has four goals and two assists in the past two games, and all six of his points came after the St. Louis fans started booing every time he touched the puck. He chipped in a final point Monday, assisting Rantanen’s empty-netter to put the score at 6-3.
After the game, Bednar said the team moved past the threats toward Kadri and focused on winning. But the coach acknowledged the center himself might have a tougher time focusing than others, considering the threats and messages were directed at him.
“He proved tonight that he’s able to do that,” Bednar said. “He knows we’re all with him.”
Kadri showing up under bright lights shouldn’t have come as a surprise. He always has to raise the stakes with bets while golfing with friends, childhood buddy Jason McNeill said earlier this season, and his wife, Ashley, has seen how intense he gets playing pickup basketball with his dad and cousins. He even hates to lose in putt-putt, she says.
“Obviously a tremendous game from him,” Bednar said. “I’m really proud of the way he’s handled the last 48 hours, and to be able to come out and perform like that in the pressure situation is amazing.”
Kadri took motivation from more than just the threats and hateful messages. He didn’t like hearing 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, of course, served an eight-game suspension last postseason for a high hit on Blues defenseman Justin Faulk, 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 was going for the loose puck in front of Binnington’s crease. “I guess he’s never heard of bulletin-board material.”
He used it to his advantage Monday, and now the Avalanche have a chance to conquer the Blues and their second-round demons when they play Wednesday.
Game 3, with the Binnington collision and go-ahead goal, will likely go down in St. Louis — and perhaps Denver — as the Nazem Kadri Game.
Well, sequels don’t always live up to originals. But in front of a building filled with boos Monday, Kadri made sure that wasn’t the case this time.
(Photo: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)