Nazem Kadri has heard the narrative being written about him, that he has a chip on his shoulder after what happened in the past, that he has something to prove.
“Yeah,” the Colorado Avalanche center said. “I mean, I’d say there’s definitely a chip on my shoulder, for sure, so I’d say that’s pretty accurate. But I try not to think about it too much, just play my game and try to help my team win.”
Kadri already has helped his team win this postseason.
He scored a power-play goal with 0.1 seconds left in the third period Aug. 2 in the opening game of the round-robin portion of Stanley Cup Qualifiers, giving Colorado a 2-1 win against the St. Louis Blues.
He scored a power-play goal with 6:55 left in the third period Wednesday in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Arizona Coyotes, breaking a 0-0 tie in what would be a 3-0 win.
With five points (two goals, three assists) in four games, he has been what the Avalanche hoped he would be when they acquired him in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 1, 2019, upgrading the second-line center spot, providing secondary scoring and adding an element of grit.
Colorado and Arizona play Game 2 on Friday (2 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN360, ALT, FS-A, FS-A PLUS) at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the Western Conference hub city amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“We need that type of depth scoring and production from him throughout the [Stanley Cup Playoffs], and I think he’s really excited looking forward to these playoffs,” coach Jared Bednar said.
In 10 seasons in Toronto, Kadri appeared in the playoffs four times and never won a round. The past two seasons, he got suspended. He sat out three games for boarding Boston Bruins forward Tommy Wingels in 2018 and the rest of the first round, which turned out to be five games, for cross-checking Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk in 2019.
Stacked at center with Auston Matthews and John Tavares, the Maple Leafs sent Kadri to the Avalanche, who needed support for Nathan MacKinnon.
Kadri was key at both ends of the ice in the regular season. He had 36 points (19 goals, 17 assists) in 51 games, sixth on Colorado in points per game (0.71). He also won 56.8 percent of his face-offs, eighth in the NHL among players who took at least 700 face-offs, sandwiched between Selke Trophy winners Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks and Ryan O’Reilly of the Blues.
But the Avalanche needed Kadri most for the playoffs, especially in a game like the one Wednesday.
They were dominating the Coyotes, but MacKinnon was quiet with zero shots and they couldn’t solve Arizona goalie Darcy Kuemper. Not halfway through the game, Kadri had as many shots as the Coyotes did: six.
“I certainly had a few looks, for sure,” Kadri said. “Just trying to get as many scoring chances as possible. I feel like I feel comfortable and confident with my shot, and especially when guys are getting to the net, if I feel an opportunity to shoot, I’m not going to pass on that. So just trying to have more of a scorer’s mentality.”
The score was 0-0, even though Colorado led in shots 32-12, when the Avalanche went on the power play at 12:21 of the third period. They needed to take advantage of this opportunity. Arizona was the least penalized team in the NHL in the regular season (6:29 penalty minutes per game) and had given Colorado only two power plays.
Defeneman Cale Makar shot the puck from the point. It rattled around in front of the net, and Kadri banged it in, busting the dam. Forward J.T. Compher scored 10 seconds later to make it 2-0. Forward Mikko Rantanen scored 1:13 after that to make it 3-0.
“I think the best part about this team is, our compete levels are through the roof,” Kadri said. “We’ve got a ton of skill, but we back that up with our work ethic. So I know J.T.’s the same way. We’re not shy to get in those dirty areas and try to score goals. I think that’s definitely a huge positive for our team.”
Kadri has to keep that a huge positive, staying disciplined, staying out of trouble, doing his job. If he does that, he can help the Avalanche not only win games, but rounds. He can help them contend for the Stanley Cup.
Bednar called Kadri the Avalanche’s best forward Wednesday — involved physically, patient with the puck, smart with decisions, dangerous offensively.
“It’s real important for our team, because [opponents] key on the MacKinnon line,” Bednar said. “Teams will do that, and we expect that, and they’ll work through it on most nights. Tonight it took them a while, but you have guys like Naz step up and get the job done and get the ball rolling.”
That’s a narrative the Avalanche love.