Avalanche Blues Hockey

Colorado Avalanche’s Gabriel Landeskog, left, is congratulated by teammate Nathan MacKinnon (29) after scoring during the third period in Game 3 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup second-round playoff series against the St. Louis Blues Saturday, May 21, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Nazem dazzle 'em, and Blues lose.

Led by 2K — Nazem Kadri with a hat trick and Darcy Kuemper brilliant in goal — the Avalanche were mightier than the Mississippi and Ain’t Louie Monday night.

The Avs won their fourth consecutive game on the road and their fourth straight in two postseasons against the Blues.

As a kid, "Baba" Kadri wished to be Kobe.

Kadri performed like the late Kobe Bryant in Game 4 by becoming the first Avalanche player ever to score three goals in a road playoff game.

With the Blues, their backers, the network broadcast and the entire hockey world concentrating on Kadri Monday night, he refused to back down, but stepped up his game. This series is all but over. Who’s got next?

Kadri — characterized as a rogue, a rapscallion, a reckless ruffian — lured the Blues into worrying more about him than the Avs. And by the time the Blues started to play real hockey, it turned out to be too little too late. Nazem has three goals in the two games in St. Louis. In between he received racial references and death threats. But he never got scared or unsettled.

Although the Avs outskated and outshot the Blues in the opening period, they trailed 1-0 for the fourth game in a row. But they scored four goals in five minutes of the second period before the Blues responded with two power-play goals in 150 seconds.

Nazem’s volatile career has turned him into a cause célèbre from East to West in North America.

Kadri — whose grandparents and father Sam emigrated from Kferdenis, Lebanon, to Canada in 1968 — is back as the center in the center of a tumultuous tempest, just where he was when the teams played a year ago. Then, Kadri whacked the Blues’ Justin Faulk upside the head in Game 2 and was ejected, then didn’t play again in the playoffs because of suspension.

Now, Naz has been accused by the Blues of injuring goaltender Jordan Binnington in a crash of the titans six minutes and 45 seconds into Game 3. The starting goalie was forced to leave with a leg injury and won’t play the rest of the series. The Avalanche already had lost defensemen Samuel Girard in the first minute of the game in St. Louis when his head and body were slammed into the board behind the Avs' goal. He, too, is out for the remainder of the postseason after being diagnosed at a St. Louis hospital of suffering a broken sternum.

The Blues and the Avalanche were on a collision course Monday night.

Kadri was not penalized for the mash-up with Binnington; the Blues didn’t seek a review after former teammates Kadri and Calle Rosen collided in the crease and drove into Binnington, and league officials, who scrutinize Nazem more closely than anyone else on the ice, declined to punish him.

After that game, Blues coach Craig Berube, who passed on his chance to challenge Kadri’s action immediately, was asked about the collision and said: "Look at Kadri’s reputation."

As if Berube was a saint as a player. He served suspensions because of illegalities and a racial remark aimed at a Black opponent, and he was in the top seven in league history in penalty minutes.

In between games, the league and St. Louis police investigated racial attacks and death threats targeting one of the few Muslims ever to play in the NHL, and security was added at the Avs' hotel. One long-time St. Louis talk show host and basketball broadcaster for the St. Louis Billikens tweeted: "Gotta play for blood now. Somebody who has the self-awareness to the team has to avenge Binny with blood. … Take the suspension and take a victim with you."

Classy.

On May 4, Nazem penned his own story for The Players' Tribune, titled "I Am Who I Am," and it’s certainly worth a read. Kadri talks about idolizing Kobe Bryant as a kid and how his father took him to a Lakers-Raptors game in Toronto.

"I wanted to be that guy," he said of the late Laker superstar.

"The player I am — the one who gives everything, who plays with an edge, who still pretends he’s Kobe out there, I’m still that guy.’’

He’s had his best statistical season by far, but Kadri is not Kobe.

To his 3-year-old daughter Naylah, "Baba" means dad. And that matters most.

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