TAMPA — The night — and game — had a storybook ending.
As a result, the Avalanche are within one victory of being able to pass around and hoist the Stanley Cup.
Out since suffering a broken thumb in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final and undergoing surgery, Nazem Kadri not only returned to the lineup Wednesday night.
He also scored the game-ending goal at 12:02 of overtime and lifted the Avalanche to a 3-2 victory over Tampa Bay at Amalie Arena in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Kadri’s shot got underneath the arm of Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and just under the crossbar.
Colorado leads the series 3-1 and can close out the two-time defending Cup champions Friday at Ball Arena.
“Aw, man it was a roller coaster of emotions,” Kadri said in the interview room of the entire experience. “Just thinking I was done and then having a sliver of hope. In here right now is kind of surreal.”
Of his game-winning goal, Kadri took a pass from Artturi Lehkanen and broke in on a semi-breakaway.
“I was trying to go far side,” he said of the shot. “I knew I got a pretty good shot off and it might have had a chance. I actually thought it was in originally, but then he kind of pulled back with the glove and kind of fooled me there. I thought maybe he’d pinned it between his arm and he was kind of swimming in the crease. I thought he might have had it. There was a few seconds of confusion there, but then everybody bull-rushed the ice.”
Kadri went through the morning skate with his teammates Wednesday and by then, he was on course to play in Game 4.
“I probably knew at some point (Tuesday), but we confirmed it in the morning,” he said. “It felt good enough. Everyone has the bumps and bruises this time of year, so I just tried to tough it out and contribute to my team.”
Nathan MacKinnon and Andrew Cogliano had the regulation goals for the Avalanche. Cogliano’s pulled the Avalanche into a 2-2 tie at 2:53 of the third period.
Frequently beleaguered goalie Darcy Kuemper had 37 saves in a rebound effort from the Avalanche’s 6-2 loss in Game 3.
Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog marveled at Kadri’s return.
“That’s the kind of guy he is,” Landeskog said. ‘He’ll do anything to win. That’s not an easy thing to come back from. Playing for what’s at stake right now, you know he wasn’t going to go down easy. It’s an inspiration to everybody else to see a teammate try to come back and fight every day to try and get better … No doubt, it was exciting for us and gave us a different look with different line combinations, matchup stuff.
“You can’t make that stuff up. Naz comes up big in overtime and it’s great to see.”
Avalanche coach Jared Bednar called Kadri’s play “a gutsy performance. He put in a lot of work to not only come back and play but so he could come back and perform to the best of his abilities. . . He had lots of talks with the trainers mostly and then when he was talking about it for a couple of days, I talked to him. I wanted to know more than he was telling the trainers he was ready to go. I wanted to make sure that he was confident he can come back and help us win.”
In keeping with their attempt to not get carried away with single wins and losses amid the big picture, Landeskog again was calm.
“It’s exciting but there’s no big celebration or anything like that,” he said. “We know the toughest game is coming up. It’s not going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination. They’re going to bring their best and we need to do the same thing.”
MacKinnon again referred to the necessity of “a short memory. It’s really exciting to get the win and we’ll enjoy it for a few minutes here. No matter how you win, it is what it is.”
Terry Frei (firstname.lastname@example.org, @tfrei) is a Denver-based author and journalist. He has been named a state’s sportswriter of the year seven times in peer voting — four times in Colorado and three times in Oregon. His seven books include the novels “Olympic Affair” and “The Witch’s Season.” Among his five non-fiction works are “Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming,” “Third Down and a War to Go,” “March 1939: Before the Madness,” and “’77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age.” He also collaborated with Adrian Dater on “Save By Roy,” was a long-time vice president of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and has covered the hockey Rockies, Avalanche and the NHL at-large. His website is www.terryfrei.com and his bio is available at www.terryfrei.com/bio.html
His Colorado Hockey Now column archive can be accessed here