Welcome back, Nazem Kadri.
After missing nearly three weeks due to injury, Kadri scored the game-winning goal midway through overtime to lift the Colorado Avalanche to a 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning – and to the brink of the franchise’s third Stanley Cup. The victory gave the Avalanche a 3-1 lead in the Stanley Cup Final, meaning Colorado is just one win away from its first Cup since 2001.
Here are three takeaways from Colorado’s victory:
Kadri Delivers in Return
It had been 18 days since Kadri played a game for the Avalanche. He made his return on Wednesday and scored what could turn out to be one of the biggest goals in Avalanche history. On a play started by a long stretch pass from goaltender Darcy Kuemper, Kadri took a feed from Artturi Lehkonen and buried a wrister into the top shelf to end the game. It was the first time the Avs led in the entire contest.
Kadri was knocked out of the postseason in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final against the Edmonton Oilers. He injured his thumb after getting rocked by a hit from Oilers forward Evander Kane – who was subsequently suspended for a game for the play. He wound up playing nearly 19 minutes for Colorado in his Game 4 return.
The goal was obviously enormous for the Avalanche, but Kadri was a bit of an unlikely hero. His injured thumb didn’t allow him to grip a stick until about a week ago and was still so weak that Colorado moved Gabriel Landeskog to the second line so he could take faceoffs with Kadri out there. The goal was a great shot, but there was some confusion as to whether it went in because it stuck in the back of the net.
Kuemper Locks In
It was a brutal Game 3 for Colorado goaltender Darcy Kuemper, as he gave up five goals before getting pulled midway through the second period of the Lightning’s emphatic 6-2 victory. He bounced back nicely for the Avs in Game 4, stopping 37 shots in the victory – his first 30-save game of the postseason. He also assisted on Kadri’s goal, making him the first netminder in NHL history to assist on an overtime game-winner in the Stanley Cup Final.
The first period was the biggest test for Kuemper. After giving up a goal to Anthony Cirelli just 36 seconds in, he kept the Avalanche in it. Tampa Bay outshot Colorado 17-4 through the first 20 minutes, and it started quickly. Despite happening so quickly, Cirelli’s goal was the fourth shot of the game. Kuemper made three great saves, but Colorado couldn’t clear the puck.
Kuemper settled down after that, and Colorado picked him back up, tying the game on Nathan MacKinnon’s power-play goal early in the second. Tampa defenseman Victor Hedman was able to solve him five minutes later, slipping a well-placed backhand into the top corner. But Kuemper stopped all 10 shots he faced in the third, and all three he faced in the extra session.
MacKinnon Gets a Goal
Nathan MacKinnon has been great throughout all of these playoffs, but he was struggling to score goals in the Stanley Cup Final. After failing to light the lamp in the first three games of the series, he was able to finally solve Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy – even though he didn’t use his stick.
The goal came off when a shot by Mikko Rantanen deflected off MacKinnon’s skate and into the net. It was the sixth power-play goal of the series for Colorado, which has at least one tally with the man advantage in each of its last five games. It evened up the game early in the second period, but the Lightning led again going into the third following Hedman’s tally. Andrew Cogliano was able to knot things up in the third to force overtime, where Kadri won it.
MacKinnon logged two assists against Tampa Bay entering Wednesday’s game but hadn’t scored since the clinching Game 4 victory against the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Final. He has 12 goals in the playoffs, and half of those have come on the power play. He had just seven power-play goals in 65 games during the regular season. MacKinnon and the Avalanche will try to close out the series and win the Stanley Cup in Friday’s Game 5 at Ball Arena in Denver.