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Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Avalanche’s Nazem Kadri finishes highly anticipated return with winning goal

TAMPA — Nazem Kadri knew he had a chance. He wanted to veer his shot toward Andrei Vasilevskiy’s far side, and after he split two Lightning defenders and cut toward that spot, he lifted the puck toward the net’s upper corner.

It had taken Kadri four games to return from a thumb injury and get to that spot — just past the 12-minute mark of overtime Wednesday in Game 4. Once he returned, it took him four minutes to record his first shot attempt and another two periods to record his first on goal.

But Kadri still managed to score his first goal since Game 1 of the Western Conference final, five days before the Evander Kane hit on June 4 that caused his thumb injury, to seal the Avalanche’s 3-2 win.

“Gutsy performance,” Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar said of Kadri.

The Lightning seemed to believe after the game that Kadri’s goal should not have counted because Colorado had too many men on the ice at the time it was scored.

Kadri knew Tuesday that he’d have a chance to play, he said, but it took until Wednesday morning to confirm that. During that time, Bednar redirected his conversations from the team’s trainers — asking about possible availability — to Kadri, wondering what his center could and couldn’t do. But pregame, Bednar didn’t reveal whether Kadri would skate for them, only saying, “he’s getting better every day.”

The center skated alongside Gabriel Landeskog and Valeri Nichushkin on the second line. In the first period, Kadri nearly created a scoring chance for himself, trying to pass in front of the Lightning’s net and watching the puck deflect off a defender’s stick and into Vasilevskiy’s glove. Between periods, he called the Amalie Arena ice “garbage” on the ESPN broadcast, but said he otherwise felt good.

Kadri set up a scoring chance for the Avalanche early in overtime, feeding Nichushkin from behind the net, and then turned his line’s final shift into the winning goal. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper hinted postgame that Kadri’s tally shouldn’t have counted, though he didn’t elaborate why. When asked about Cooper’s comments, Kadri said that confused him.

“The puck hit the back of the net, end of story,” he said. “So not sure why he’d say that.”

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