EDMONTON, AB — Nazem Kadri is a major reason the Colorado Avalanche are one win away from the franchise's first trip to the Stanley Cup Final in more than two decades.
They'll have to take that step without him.
Kadri is out for at least the rest of the Western Conference final against the Edmonton Oilers after being injured on an illegal hit by Evander Kane in Game 3. The Avalanche are up 3-0 and go for the sweep Monday night in Edmonton.
“He’s out for the series, possibly longer,” coach Jared Bednar said Sunday. “We should find that out in the next few days. My thoughts are the same on the hit: It’s a dangerous hit.”
On Sunday, the NHL suspended Kane for Game 4.
The Oilers are looking to become just the fifth team in league history to win a series after falling behind 3-0.
Veteran defenseman Duncan Keith, who played for Chicago in 2011 when the Blackhawks erased a 3-0 deficit before losing to Vancouver in seven games, said the pressure now shifts to Colorado.
“Not a lot of people are expecting us to do much now, so we’ll just go play hockey and do what we’ve done all year," Keith said. "Take it one game at a time, one day at a time and anything can happen.”
Assuming the Avalanche don't join the dubious list of teams to blow a 3-0 lead and lose a best-of-seven series, they could be without Kadri for part or all of the Stanley Cup Final against the New York Rangers or back-to-back defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
That would be a significant blow given that Kadri has made a case for Conn Smythe Trophy consideration as playoff MVP. He scored six goals and added eight assists in 13-plus games before getting injured Saturday night.
Kadri didn't return after Kane sent him crashing left arm-first into the boards 1:06 in, a hit that was reviewed and called a major penalty.
“I don’t like it,” Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said of the hit. “Those are the ones that kind of gives you the chills down your spine, and you’re taught from a young age that you don’t do that, and especially in that distance from the boards. It’s a dangerous play, and, yeah, I don’t know what else to say.”
Kane said he was trying to “get up on” Kadri, and, “Unfortunately he went into the boards awkwardly and hurt his hand.”
Unsurprisingly given the shroud of secrecy in hockey, especially during the playoffs, the Avalanche have not revealed what Kadri's injury is or announced how long he'd be out, beyond Bednar's declaration about the remainder of the series. They're already without defenseman Samuel Girard, who broke his sternum last round against St. Louis, and winger Andre Burakovsky, who blocked a shot with his right leg in Game 1 of this series.
“Injuries are part of the game — they happen," Bednar said. “You hope not, but certainly the speed of the game, things can happen. Guys aren’t going to shy away from confrontation, even in some dangerous areas because every play is so important.”
Nicolas Aube-Kubel, claimed off waivers from Philadelphia in November, figures to slot in for Kadri. Depth, bolstered by general manager Joe Sakic's deadline acquisitions of defenseman Josh Manson and forwards Artturi Lehkonen and Andrew Cogliano, helped Colorado win the Central Division and earn the top seed in the West.
Along the way, the Avalanche have gone a perfect 6-0 on the road. One more in Edmonton on Monday would sweep the Oilers out of the playoffs for a second consecutive year and send Colorado to the final for the first time since 2001.
Playing solid road hockey has become a staple for Nathan MacKinnon and Co. this postseason. While MacKinnon thinks the Avalanche's details are better at home, there's something to be said for perhaps the fastest team in the NHL slowing things down and getting the job done away from home.
“You don’t got to please anybody," he said. "We’re here to hopefully make it boring and gross and just play a good two-way game. There’s no show to put on when we’re on the road, and it kind of feels like we’re just playing the right way.”
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