ST. LOUIS – To quote a late, great baseball announcer from this historic midwestern city: “I don’t believe what I just saw.” If Jack Buck ever called a hockey game, that’s what he might have said too.
In the previous 48 hours, Nazem Kadri put up with racist threats, a water bottle toss from the opposing goalie in a hallway, disparaging remarks from the opposing head coach and 18,000 Blues fans booing him and giving him their middle finger. And, he just flipped it right back at them, with the first road hat trick in Avalanche playoff history.
Final from Enterprise Center: Avalanche 6, Blues 3. The Avs can close out the Blues with a win in Game 5 Wednesday night at Ball Arena. One more win in the next three games, and the Avs would advance to their first Western Conference final in 20 years.
“I needed some fuel,” Kadri said, after his amazing performance. “I was pretty upset the last couple days.”
Kadri said one of the things that upset him most was the “You just have to look at his reputation” remark from Blues coach Craig Berube following Game 3 in which he collided with Blues coach Jordan Binnington, who was hurt on the play.
“Guess he’s never heard of bulletin-board material,” Kadri said.
Kadri, I’m told, received round-the-clock protection from St. Louis police from Game 3 on, including an officer stationed outside his hotel room. The Avs received police escorts to and from the game, and there were added police stationed throughout the arena and in the stands. The police became involved when threats were made against Kadri not only online, but at least one was made to the police themselves that was deemed credible enough to raise concerns.
“I was able to read those messages,” Kadri said. “They were very extreme. Racial, threatening – all that good stuff. (The police) did a great job of making me feel safe, and I really appreciate it.”
Kadri told TNT after the game, “Unfortunately, I’ve been dealing with that a long time. I just try to keep moving forward. I know that doesn’t reflect every fan in St. Louis. For for those that hate, I feel sorry for them.”
Kadri scored two goals in the second period and one in the third. The last one, at 9:38 of the third, gave the Avs a 5-3 lead, after the Blues made things hairy with two late second-period power-play goals to cut a 4-1 Avs lead to 4-3. But the Avs came out with a great third period, re-establishing their checking game and giving the Blues nothing at 5-on-5. Kadri snuck a wrist shot over the glove of Blues goalie Ville Husso to quiet the building down again. Kadri gave some “how do you like me now?” looks to the crowd.
“I had to rub it in,” Kadri said with a laugh.
Former Blue Erik Johnson rubbed it in a little too, with a big goal at 2:44 of the second to tie the game 1-1. The Avs, to that point, had been dominating shots-wise, but couldn’t break through on Husso. But the Johnson goal began a cascade of four goals in under five minutes. Kadri got two, including one right after the Blues had killed off a 5-on-3 for a full two minutes – after Blues forwards David Perron and Pavel Buchnevich cross-checked and jumped Kadri from behind. Right as the Blues crowd was getting really fired up with the 5-on-3 kill, Kadri sat them all down again with a one-timer past Husso.
“A couple chintzy calls, and they got a couple,” said Johnson, who was assessed one of the penalties. “But we stayed with our game. And I just want to say how proud we are of Naz, after going through all that crap. No human being should have to receive that kind of treatment, especially over a hockey game.”
Said Kadri, “Stupid penalties that we cashed in on. Lose your cool, we’ll make you pay. … I wanted to make a mark on this game.”
He certainly did, said coach Jared Bednar.
“I’m really proud of him, especially with what he’s gone through the last 48 hours. Our message was ‘stay focused, we’re here to win a hockey game.’ The one guy I was a little worried about was Naz,” Bednar said.
But, Bednar said, Kadri showed poise throughout the two days. In the end, he walked away a winner, in more ways than one.
The Avs hope they don’t come back to this city for several months now. There is still one game left to win, and, not to get all Debbie Downer here but: the Avs have blown several 3-1 series leads in the past. Now is not the time to get overconfident.
But, it’s OK to feel pretty good about things.