TAMPA– The story could be beautiful. In fact, it should be. Especially for fans of the Colorado Avalanche.
After spending 18 days on the sidelines with a left thumb injury sustained after he was illegally hit from behind in Game 3 of the Western Finals after convincing his head coach Jared Bednar that he could contribute to the success of his team even if he was clearly unable to shoot with power and precision, Nazem Kadri welcomed his return to the game by scoring the winning goal at 12:02 of the first period of extra time.
Kadri sealed the match after teammates Devon Toews and Bowen Byram hit the crossbar and a post. After Andrei Vasilevskiy made 10 saves, including steals from Logan O’Connor and Josh Manson, to keep the Lightning in the game even though they were completely outplayed in overtime.
The fact that it is a player with a bruised thumb and probably anesthetized to stop the pain, a player unable to shoot with the power and precision that characterizes him who ends up outwitting the best goalkeeper in the world adds even more color to this beautiful story. . .
Especially since this 3-2 victory offered by Kadri propels the Colorado Avalanche and their supporters to victory in the Stanley Cup conquest. A conquest that they were able to celebrate on Friday at the Ball Arena in Denver.
Too many players on the court
This is where the beautiful story loses its color. At least according to Lightning, they are in a very precarious position. Against the wall, the “Bolts” must sign three consecutive victories, including two in height, in Denver, to turn the tide and find a way to win a third consecutive championship.
The challenge is colossal. It is almost insurmountable.
So it was normal to see head coach Jon Cooper appear in front of reporters, head down, face grim, a little despondent.
Cooper didn’t really hear the first question. He was distracted. He seemed defeated.
After babbling a few words about his team’s good start to the game in a totally nonchalant manner, the Lightning head coach let out a heartfelt cry.
I do not scream. Not that! far from there But his voice choked with disappointment, Jon Cooper said: “This loss hurts a lot. I am heartbroken for my players because we should still be on the ice right now. »
Without elaborating on what got him there with such a claim, Cooper said he would take stock Thursday before the Lightning’s departure for Denver. He then got up and left the interview room.
But what was Cooper talking about?
Looking at the replays of the streaks leading up to the winning goal, we noted the possibility that Bowen Byram touched the puck over the allowed limit. But it is not obvious.
Later in the sequence, we notice the presence of six Avalanche skaters on the ice. Watching the replays multiple times, it quickly becomes clear that Nazem Kadri hits the ice long before Nathan MacKinnon, whom he came to relieve, is anywhere near the bench. When Kadri receives Artturi Lehkonen’s beautiful relayed pass in the center of the ice and swerves to his left to rush into the enemy zone, MacKinnon is still not on the bench.
The rape was not reported. Kadri scored. The avalanche won.
In the first official summary published by the NHL, we highlight the presence of seven Avalanche members in the section reserved for players on the ice at the time of the goal. We see the numbers of Bowen Byram, Erik Johnson, Valeri Nichushkin, Josh Manson, Artturi Lehkonen, Nazem Kadri and goalkeeper Darcy Kuemper.
No sign of Nathan MacKinnon, who was nonetheless on the ice.
In a second official summary released about 20 minutes after the first version, the NHL made a correction and removed Jack Johnson’s number.
Real crime or normal course of play?
Was Jon Cooper right to drop such a bombshell in his post-game comments? A bombshell that calls into question not only the Avalanche’s victory, but the League’s integrity in enforcing the rules?
In a sense, yes. Because it is clear that Kadri, when he touches the puck, should never have had the opportunity to reach the net defended by Andrei Vasilevskiy since the referees should have decreed the arrest and imposed a penalty on the Avalanche.
On the other hand, this type of “illegal” change has become common in NHL games. The game is so fast in hockey today that teams regularly find themselves with one, sometimes two and sometimes even three players too many on the ice for a second, or two or three.
And we must not forget either that the regulations establish that a player who is at the distance of the post from his bench -if he is not involved in the game of course- is not considered too much on the track since he is in the process of rejoining. the companions of him to rest.
The problem with Wednesday’s game-winning goal is that Nazem Kadri is clearly in the action, as the Avalanche relies on six skaters and a goaltender on the ice.
When asked about the possibility that his goal was not good according to Jon Cooper’s claims, Nazem Kadri seemed completely taken aback. “I have no idea what he means. That goal was good,” the Avalanche hero responded after the game.
His head coach Jared Bednar was equally surprised.
“At first, I didn’t see the puck go in. But I saw Nazem play a very good game to cut the net and take a shot that surprised Vasilevskiy. Darcy (Kuemper) had great presence of mind to fire the puck forward as both teams made changes. Artturi (Lehkonen) made a good pass and Nazem made the kind of play he knows how to make. He had been indicating for a few days that he was ready to return. I met him because he wanted to make sure that he didn’t come back just to come back, but that he came back to perform. He showed it in that game,” the Avalanche head coach said.
The breathless lightning
Jon Cooper’s grievances, as justified in the eyes of some as unjustified and exaggerated in the eyes of others, will not change the final result of Wednesday night.
At best, Cooper and the Lightning will get an apology from the NHL if the leaders acknowledge there was one extra player on the ice for the Avalanche.
That said, when you look at how the overtime played out, the Lightning were so overpowered, so overwhelmed, so unable to deal with the pace imposed by the Avalanche that it seemed obvious that Colorado would end up winning.
Oh well! That doesn’t stop Cooper, his bosses, his players and his supporters from believing that a massive attack, given in overtime, could have allowed Lightning to reverse the value in overtime. To win the match and level the odds in the final series instead of being a one-elimination setback.
An elimination that now seems imminent.
It is not about pretending that the two-time champions will give up. But it’s obvious that Lightning is lagging behind. He looks out of breath while his opponent clearly seems to be enjoying a second wind which makes the duel a bit lopsided.
Also, Nikita Kucherov looks really weakened by injury. He was struggling to skate on Wednesday. He was practically invisible. And on the rare occasions that he did touch the puck, he attempted quick passes as if he didn’t want to keep possession of the puck. He attempted four shots, only two hit the target.
Brayden Point has missed a second straight game. And if he does come back, he clearly won’t be at the top of his game.
Erik Cernak only made 11 appearances on Wednesday night. Hit in the leg by a powerful slap blow from Nathan MacKinnon during a massive Avs attack, he did not play the remainder of the match.
Author of the first goal of the match, goal scored from 36me second of game when the Lightning gave the Avalanche the kind of start Colorado normally reserves for its opponents, Anthony Cirelli suffered an arm or shoulder injury in addition to suffering the repercussions of a blocked shot.
Captain Steven Stamkos also suffered twice when he blocked shots from the Avalanche.
The kind of sacrifices necessary to win. Sacrifices that cash more easily in victory. Sacrifices that undermine morale and lower enthusiasm when the team loses.
Especially in extra time, as has already happened twice in four games played since the start of the grand final.
Lightning players blocked 34 of 90 shots fired by the Avalanche in 3 1/2 periods Wednesday. This impeccable defensive work complicated the cause of the Avalanche forwards who despite everything were able to recover twice from one-goal deficits – Nathan MacKinnon scored his 12me series during a massive attack in the middle period and Andrew Cogliano (3me) early in the third, before Nazem Kadri scored his seventh playoff goal.
“I really wanted to join my teammates, to be part of the big party that is the Stanley Cup Final. I am very happy that I was able to do it tonight,” Kadri testified, adding that the hardest part was yet to come, as the fourth win in a best-of-seven series is always the hardest to achieve.
We’ll see if that will be the case on Friday when Avalanche and Lightning meet again at Ball Arena in Denver. Maybe for the last time.