ST. LOUIS – The water bottle, mostly empty, sat on the black rubber floor surfacing in the hallway between the Avalanche and Blues dressing rooms. With one flick of the wrist and a moment caught live on national TV, it had become the story of the hockey world.
Standing against a TNT backdrop for his postgame TV interview, Nazem Kadri started to answer a question about a first-period play Saturday that left Blues goalie Jordan Binnington injured. Midsentence, he looked over his shoulder as an Eternal brand water bottle hit the ground. He paused for five seconds before continuing. Then, at the end of his answer, he explained his silence.
“I’m not sure if he just threw a water bottle at me,” he said, then laughed.
Kadri meant Binnington. And according to multiple people who saw the exchange that followed Colorado’s 5-2 win in Game 3, the throw did in fact come from the Blues goaltender, who might miss multiple weeks with a possible knee sprain, per The AthleticJeremy Rutherford’s.
Binnington’s injury came less than seven minutes into the game. The play started when Avalanche forward Artturi Lehkonen flew down the ice and flung a wrist shot on the net. Binnington got in front of the puck but allowed a rebound. The rubber disc sat just in front of the crease, and Kadri bolted for it, colliding with Blues defenseman Calle Rosen. The two tumbled into Binnington, with Rosen making first contact, and all three players went sprawling into the net.
It was hard to tell if Kadri would have or could have avoided contact if not for Rosen, though he said after the game that “I don’t think I would have hit him at all” if the defenseman – whom the Avalanche once acquired with Kadri in a deal for Tyson Barrie – hadn’t been there.
“I just saw a loose puck,” Kadri said after the Avalanche win, which gave them a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven second-round series. “It was kind of just sitting behind him, and I just tried to poke it with my stick. I think their defenseman kind of collided with me and pushed me into (Binnington). “
Jordan Binnington was replaced in goal by Ville Husso after being injured on this play.
– The Athletic NHL (@TheAthleticNHL) May 22, 2022
Binnington tested out his legs in hopes of staying in the game, but he eventually left with the St. Louis trainer, giving way to backup Ville Husso, who allowed four goals and took the loss. And though Kadri wasn’t assessed with a penalty, the St. Louis crowd took exception to the play, booing him every time he touched the puck for the rest of the game.
That only seemed to fuel the center. He tipped in a Cale Makar slapshot to put the Avalanche up in the second period, going down to a knee and punching the air in celebration. Then, later in the period, he made a long pass to Lehkonen along the boards, setting up an odd-man rush. The Finn beat Husso with a wrist shot and immediately pointed to Kadri as the Colorado players gathered for a post-goal huddle.
“When you get the whole arena booing you, you up your game for sure,” Logan O’Connor said. “That was nice to see him have a great game tonight.”
The win showed Kadri at his most effective: playing with an edge, making skilled plays and occasionally agitating, as when he and Jordan Kyrou got tangled up and he skated away with the 24-year-old’s stick. But Kadri didn’t cross a line, at least in the eyes of the Avalanche and the officials.
Cale ➡️ Nazem
– Colorado Avalanche (vAvalanche) May 22, 2022
That hasn’t always been the case in the postseason. He served two playoff suspensions while with the Maple Leafs, then another with the Avalanche in 2021 after a high hit on St. Louis defenseman Justin Faulk. Kadri sat out the final two games in the first round last year, then all six second-round matchups against Vegas.
The Blues clearly haven’t forgotten about the Faulk hit, and St. Louis coach Craig Berube didn’t hesitate to link it to Binnington’s injury Saturday.
“Look at Kadri’s reputation,” he said. “That’s all I’ve got to say.”
When Avalanche coach Jared Bednar, who had just informed reporters that Samuel Girard would be out for the season with a broken sternum, heard about Berube’s comments, he looked frustrated.
“It’s either a legal play or it’s not,” the coach said. “Both guys go in there, they’re both going after the puck the same way, and they collide before they go in. Again, unfortunate, the same as Girard for me. That’s a legal play and it’s unfortunate, but it’s what it is. “
The Binnington injury and the water bottle throw are bullet points on a long list of Kadri’s history with the Blues over the past 12 months. He fought Brayden Schenn and Faulk in the first and second regular-season matchups of the season to answer the bell for his playoff hit on Faulk. In their second game of the season, back in October, Binnington swung his stick at Kadri’s head.
Jordan Binnington shot the puck at Darcy Kuemper then swung his stick at Nazem Kadri. 3 pic.twitter.com/mL8LZhwooO
– Sportsnet (portsSportsnet) October 29, 2021
Is there anything personal going on between them? Not in Kadri’s eyes.
“I’m just going out there to try to win and compete, and if people take that personally that’s on them,” he said. “For me, what happens on the ice kind of stays on the ice. I’m a competitor. I want to win. “
That’s what he did Saturday, leaving behind a frustrated Blues team and a mostly empty water bottle on the floor.
• Early in the game, Girard skated behind his own net to grab a puck. Ivan Barbashev followed and drove himself into Girard’s shoulder, sending the defenseman flying into the glass head first. His face appeared to slide along the boards before the back of his head landed on the ice. With blood on his face, Girard had to be helped skating off and was taken to a hospital.
The play left Girard with a broken sternum. He will miss the rest of the playoffs.
“You know, I didn’t love seeing it live,” Bednar said. “Looking back on it… I thought it was a legal check, to be honest with you. He kind of goes in on his head side, but he got a lot of body there. He was turned the wrong way, and he went in awkward. It was a heavy check. Unfortunately, but to be honest, I think it was a legal check. “
Cy Darcy Kuemper allowed a bad rebound, leading to Ryan O’Reilly’s second-period goal to cut the Avalanche lead to 3-2. But he also made a big right-pad stop on Robert Thomas, who had a partial breakaway early in the third. That kept the score tied.
Ille Ville Husso started to come off the ice for an extra attacker with time winding down in the third, then Mikko Rantanen stole the puck from Scott Perunovich. He got it to Nathan MacKinnon, who suddenly had a two-on-one with Gabriel Landeskog. With Husso scrambling to get back, MacKinnon got the puck to Landeskog, who shot into an empty net. That made the score 4-2 and all but eliminated the chances of a Blues comeback.
Ed Bednar scratched O’Connor for the first two games of the series, but he inserted him for Nico Sturm on Saturday. The move paid dividends during a first-period penalty kill.
As Josh Manson, who committed a holding penalty, came out of the box, teammate Darren Helm flipped him the puck high in the air. Manson snagged it at the blue line as he headed into the offensive zone. He passed the puck across the slot to a charging O’Connor, who beat Husso’s left pad to score. Berube considered challenging for offsides but decided against it. And just like that, the only lead St. Louis held all night was gone.
Said O’Connor: “It was definitely awesome getting that one after sitting out the last couple games.”
(Photo of Nazem Kadri and Nathan MacKinnon celebrating a goal: Dilip Vishwanat / Getty Images)