NHL playoffs results daily: Nazem Kadri takes center stage (again), Avs lead Blues

Game 3: Avalanche 5, Blues 2 | Colorado leads 2-1

Who was The Guy? Blues fans aren’t going to like this, but – to borrow a phrase from the great Jeremy Rutherford – the guy of the night was Nazem Kadri. Was Kadri’s Game 3 impact 100 percent wholesome? Not quite. Was it immense and undeniable? You bet.

We’ll start with the obvious. Kadri accidentally on purpose bowled over Blues goalie Jordan Binnington in the first period, knocking St. Louis’ prodigal starter from the game. Binnington, who had been quite good since taking over for Ville Husso in the first round, left with an obvious lower-body injury. Husso came in and quickly allowed a goal to Logan O’Connor – which might have been on an offside play after Josh Manson knocked down an airborne puck near the St. Louis. Louis blue line, but that’s another story.

You can be the judge here, and it really is an eye-of-the-beholder situation. The puck was nearby, and Kadri got the worst of the collision with St. Louis’ Calle Rosen, but… it’s Nazem Kadri and it’s the playoffs. The track record counts for something. Tough to say for certain, either way. That’s not meant as a cop-out, either. I was on Team He Did It Deliberately until I watched the replay a few more times.

The rest of the game brought more of the skill / pain-in-the-ass combo platter from Kadri. In the second period, he broke the 1-1 tie on a redirected shot by Cale Makar. A few minutes later, he put Colorado up 3-1 with a slick pass off the boards to spring Artturi Lehkonen.

Later in the game, he ripped Jordan Kyrou’s stick out of his hands and carried it with him, as Rutherford said, “for a half-mile.”

Like it or not, Kadri carried Colorado to a 2-1 series lead, as well.

What was the key? The last three minutes of the second period. Brayden Schenn should’ve gotten an assist on Lehkonen’s goal; he missed high on a prime chance against Avs goalie Darcy Kuemper and started the sequence. In the final 30 seconds, Ryan O’Reilly cut Colorado’s lead to 3-2 a few seconds before Kuemper made a point-blank save on Brandon Saad. It was a chaotic stretch, but the result was the same; the Avs held a one-goal lead, and they’d never relinquish it.

Key stat: 0.68. That’s the difference in all-situations expected goals percentage between the teams in this game, per Natural Stat Trick. Doesn’t get any closer than that. It’s a nice, tidy way to sum up the series so far. St. Louis won, for whatever that is worth, 50.34 to 49.66.

Moment it was over: After Gabriel Landeskog scored to make it 4-2 Colorado with 2:08 left, Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko had a prime chance along the goal line that Kuemper handled. That, well and truly, felt like the end. Kuemper finished with 26 saves on 28 shots.

Moment of the game: Binnington’s exit. He’d allowed just nine goals on 176 shots since starting Game 4 against Minnesota, giving him a .949 save percentage. Husso came in cold and allowed a quick one, finishing with 19 saves on 23 shots. Binnington is being evaluated for a lower-body injury, but like we said, it does not look good. He tested his leg on the ice with the Blues’ trainer, and he was not happy with the results.

If it’s Husso’s net from here on out, that’d be a big enough story; he was benched for a reason. Factor in the specifics surrounding Binnington’s injury – the guy who was primarily responsible, the way it happened and the nature of the rest of the game – and it only gets more important. Avs coach Jared Bednar defended Kadri, comparing it to Ivan Barbashev’s first-period hit on Sam Girard that sent the Avs defenseman to the hospital. Blues coach Craig Berube blamed Kadri. It’s the sort of thing that turns playoff series into something more.

To wit: Binnington apparently threw a water bottle at Kadri after the game during Kadri’s TNT interview. Alrighty then.

Avalanche worry meter: 🙃🙃 … They haven’t been great, but a lead is a lead.

Blues worry meter: 😬😬😬 … They’re a better matchup against the Avs than a lot of folks thought, but a 2-1 deficit without the hot hand in net seems like it’ll be an issue.

– Sean Gentille

Three stars

On tap for Sunday

• Florida at Tampa Bay, 1:30 pm ET (Lightning lead 2-0)

• Carolina at NY Rangers, 3:30 pm ET (Hurricanes lead 2-0)

• Calgary at Edmonton, 8 pm ET (Series tied 1-1)

(Photo of Nazem Kadri and Ville Husso: Dilip Vishwanat / Getty Images)

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