The center hadn’t taken a face-off all night. He had one shot on goal. A left-handed shooter, he had the puck on his backhand in the right circle with Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev on him, and he pulled off a move Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said “not a ton of guys can make.”
As Sergachev reached out with his stick, Kadri pulled the puck to his forehand and chipped it between the right arm and body of Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The puck lodged in the roof of the net, and it took a few seconds before everyone knew Kadri had scored at 12:02. The Avalanche defeated the Lightning 3-2 and took a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series.
“I was trying to go far side,” Kadri said. “I knew I got a pretty good shot off and might have had a chance. Actually thought it was in originally, but then Vasilevskiy kind of fooled me there, and I thought it maybe pinned between his arm. He was kind of swimming in the crease, and I thought he might have had it, so it was certainly a few seconds of confusion there.
“And then I just saw everybody kind of bull rush the ice, and that’s when I knew it was confirmed.”
Lightning coach Jon Cooper indicated he thought the goal should not have counted, but he was emotional, didn’t provide details and cut off his press conference after one question.
The NHL released a statement after the game that said each of the four officials did not see too many men on the ice during the play. The call is not subject to video review.
The two-time defending champions face elimination in Game 5 at Ball Arena in Denver on Friday (8 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+, CBC, SN, TVAS).
“I’m not quite sure what he’s thinking, why it shouldn’t have counted,” Kadri said. “I mean, that kind of confuses me a little bit. You know, the puck hit the back of the net. End of story. I’m not sure why he’d say that.”
It’s a heck of a story for Kadri, the kind of story that is told and retold about the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Kadri was injured in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final on June 4, when he was hit from behind by Edmonton Oilers forward Evander Kane and crashed into the end boards. Kane received a major penalty for boarding and a one-game suspension.
Teams keep injury information closely guarded, especially during the playoffs, but Bednar said Kadri had surgery on his hand at some point soon afterward.
Kadri started skating without a stick, then started skating with a stick, then started handling the puck, then started shooting lightly. Over the past two days, he spoke to Bednar about returning to the lineup.
“I want to know what he’s going to be able to do, what he can’t do, if anything, and how he’s feeling about it, making sure that he’s confident that he can come back and help us win,” Bednar said. “I don’t want him if he can’t play the right way and accomplish what we need to accomplish.”
Kadri said he probably knew he was playing sometime Tuesday and maybe confirmed it Wednesday morning. He declined to put a percentage on his health, saying only he felt good enough.
Teammate Andrew Cogliano, who came back from a recent hand surgery of his own in Game 2, lauded Kadri.
“I think for what he’s dealing with, it’s pretty remarkable, to be honest,” Cogliano said. “He’s in a tough spot. He was in a tough spot a couple days ago. But I think everyone at this point, you get adrenaline, you get that fire in you, and you find a way.”
The 31-year-old has played 13 NHL seasons — 10 for the Toronto Maple Leafs, three for the Avalanche — and this is the first time he has been on a team that advanced past the second round of the playoffs. You get only so many chances to win the Cup.
“Oh, man,” Kadri said. “Roller coaster of emotions. You know, just thinking I was done and then having a sliver of hope, and sitting here right now, it’s kind of surreal. I was just excited to join the team again and be in the dressing room, and this is what I’ve been waiting for my whole life pretty much. So it was certainly exciting to get back in the lineup.”
And for him to score that goal?
Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog, who came back from knee surgery at the start of the playoffs, called it an inspiration.
“Can’t make that stuff up,” Landeskog said. “I mean, ‘Naz’ comes up big in overtime, and it’s great to see.”