If Nazem Kadri truly wanted to hurt Jordan Binnington, don’t you think he would’ve done a better job than that?
The hit was legal to the last. An accident. A hockey play. An unfortunate hockey play, but a hockey play nonetheless.
“Look at Kadri’s reputation,” St. Louis coach Craig Berube told reporters when asked about the Game 3 collision on Saturday that might’ve turned the Avs-Blues series on its head. “That’s all I’ve got to say.”
Reputation? The guy who was once suspended by the NHL for hurling a racial slur wants to talk about reputation?
Look at the tape, coach. Zapruder that bad boy.
Kadri’s eyes? Tracking a loose puck. Kadri’s hands? Loose puck. Kadri’s stick? Loose puck. If Binnington catches that bouncing biscuit, we’re having a very different conversation heading into Game 4 on Monday night.
Malicious? Not a chance.
That Calle Rosen and the Avs center turned into a two-man human cannonball and knocked the Blues netminder out of the game was incidental, not deliberate.
The Avalanche dug themselves a 1-0 deficit, on the road, some 6:45 into Game 3. This coming on the heels of a Game 2 performance that reeked of languor and hubris, raising all those old, creeping doubts about postseason toughness and guts.
Kadri’s intent? To score. Not to maim.
“From my perspective,” he continued, “there’s nothing personal.”
To infer anything beyond that is partisan tripe, the presumptive ravings of a paranoid fan base who’ve had it out for No. 91 since he blindsided St. Louis defenseman Justin Faulk a year ago.
Kadri was wrong then.
Blues Twitter is wrong now.
“They’re both going after the puck the same way and they collide before they go in,” Avs coach Jared Bednar, whose team takes a 2-1 series lead into Game 4, told reporters.
“So it’s unfortunate, same as (Sam) Girard (and his broken sternum) for me. That’s a legal play. And it’s unfortunate, but it is what it is.”
It’s a muddle. The Athletic reported late Saturday night that Binnington likely sprained his knee during the tumble, tossing the best player over the first two and a one-third games of this series into limbo. Right along with St. Louis’ hopes of reaching a conference final.
Before the Kadri collision, Binnington had been an absolute wall, stopping 33 of the last 34 shots the Avs fired his way — including the first three on Saturday night.
It was textbook hot-goalie mode, a combination of reflexes and anticipation that starts to put a Cup favorite on dangerously thin ice. If the Blues wanted to unlock Colorado’s box of second-round postseason demons, their netminder was the key.
And then, just like that, he was gone.
Binnington’s backup, Ville Husso, put together a fabulous regular season, but the Wild solved him after Game 1 in the first round — outscoring the Blue Notes 11-3, combined, over Games 2 and 3.
After Saturday, it wasn’t hard to figure out why.
Stanley Cups are won between the ears as much as they are between the pipes. With the Avs nursing a 3-2 cushion late in the third period, as a raucous Blues crowd tried to scream the home side back into the tilt, Husso’s brain locked up.
With only 2:07 remaining on the clock and the action on the other side of the ice, the Finnish goalie started racing to the bench. One problem — the Blues turned it over, and before the netminder could get back, the Avs were zipping his way off the break.
Husso managed to find himself embarrassingly trapped in no-man’s land, while Avs captain Gabe Landeskog slid the biscuit into a gifted empty net for the game-clincher.
And what a difference a year makes. Last spring, Bednar’s roster got worn down physically by Vegas and mentally by Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Avs faithful were desperate for a rough-and-tumble anti-hero of their own.
Someone who’d stand up to the bullies. Someone who could get into the other team’s collective heads the way the Knights seemed to live in Colorado’s. Someone who could go into a hostile arena, like a pro wrestling villain, and not just handle the pure spite of thousands, but actually feed off it.
Someone, basically, who could do exactly what Kadri did in Game 3.
Never mind that donnybrook in the crease. With an arena riding his back, the Avs center then went on to further aggravate the Blues with his stick, notching a goal and an assist in the second period, including a gorgeous feed to Arturri Lehkonen for a score that put Colorado up 3-1.
“That (goal) was a difference-maker in the game and kind of got us going a little bit,” Kadri said.
In that sense, No. 91 hit the Blues where it hurt the most — on the scoreboard. Which means if it wasn’t personal before, it sure as heck is about to be.
“Reputation,” Bednar noted, “doesn’t mean anything.”
Reputation? Binnington once swung his freaking stick like a broadsword, Conan the Barbarian style, at Kadri’s mug during a stoppage in play.
According to eyewitnesses, the Blues goalie allegedly interrupted Kadri’s postgame interview with TNT on Saturday night by chucking a water bottle in his general direction.
Whenever these two get together, one guy acts like a hot-headed, irresponsible loose cannon who routinely crosses the line to try and hurt somebody. The other guy is Nazem Kadri.
“I think it was Binnington,” Kadri told reporters when asked about the bottle. “But, I mean, I was kind of a little tied up.”
If the Blues can’t tie things up Monday, turn out the lights. Because this party’s over.