After Colorado tried to knock Jordan Binnington out of Game 2 on a failed crash-test run by Valeri Nichushkin, the Avs turned to their specialist in these matters, and Nazem Kadri got the job done. He didn’t miss his target, and Binnington (sprained knee) won’t play again in this series.
In a frustrating and mortifying Saturday evening on home ice, the Blues lost Game 3 by a 5-2 score. They lost a lot more than that, of course. They lost Binnington, who had a .955 save percentage in this series until his knee gave way under a pile of bad intentions.
In a league where wild animals roam and seldom encounter boundaries, in a league where consistent and credible accountability is non-existent, Kadri had no reason to be a gentleman. He did what he did. And his choice was made much easier because he had an excellent chance to get away with it. Kadri’s history of violent acts on the ice is lengthy, but if repeat offenders are selective, they’ll be OK because the NHL won’t enforce all or even most of their misdeeds.
Same as it ever was. If you can’t beat a goaltender in a straight-up, then beat him down and eliminate him. This was the most predictable moment of the second-round series between the Blues and Avs.
But let’s make something clear here: The Blues were putting themselves at risk through their own actions, and that’s always dangerous business.
Earlier in the first period, Blues forward Ivan Barbashev took out Colorado defenseman Samuel Girard with a vicious but technically clean slam behind the net.
Later on, as the whistle blew to stop play, Barbashev took a path through the Avs crease and made contact with goaltender Darcy Kuemper. It was nothing physically menacing or harmful; Barbashev presumably wanted to distract Kuemper to get him off his game.
Here’s an objective view from St. Louisan Mike McKenna, the retired NHL goaltender, discussing what happened next.
“This time, Barbashev got a reaction,” McKenna wrote at Daily Faceoff. “Kadri chased the Blues forward 70 feet up the ice, barking at him the entire time. I don’t think Kadri ran Binnington on purpose. But I do think he was fully aware that Blues defenseman Calle Rosen was coming, and that there was a good chance they would both end up hurtling into the St. Louis goal.
“In my opinion, when Barbashev made contact with Kuemper earlier in the first period, it fueled the Avalanche bench. There’s no way it wasn’t noticed. Players see those things, and they all talk.
“I’ve seen this play out so many times. Your team’s goalie gets touched. Someone on the bench says it’s time to go after the other team’s goalie. Maybe not run him, but make him uncomfortable. Get in his crease. Chirp him.
“Players know that driving the net with a defenseman converging can result in an ugly collision. Usually they’ll try to let up a little, or get the right body position to lessen the blow. But if it’s the Stanley Cup playoffs, and you’ve just witnessed your own goaltender being messed around with like Barbashev did to Kuemper, it can change a mindset. And I think that might have played a factor in Kadri driving the St. Louis net with reckless abandon.”
McKenna didn’t think it was a penalty; the Rosen-Kadri collision provided cover for Kadri. In the heat of the moment the two refs saw two opponents skating like mad to get to a loose puck, with both eventually careening into the net. But Kadri’s extended motives were obvious. His post-game lies about how all of this went down only increased the suspicions over his actions. This was pretty blatant. To borrow from baseball: Kadri got the pitch he wanted, and didn’t miss.
“I think it was a dangerous play. Kadri was behind Rosen and he sent the Blues defenseman flying into his own goalie,” McKenna wrote. “But it’s also the Stanley Cup playoffs. Some players are willing to do just about anything to win.”
Enough already about Kadri.
What surprised and disappointed me was how the Blues responded. That’s because they didn’t respond. I know many out there were calling for retaliation, wanting a Blues player to carry out revenge for the scummy hit on Binnington.
I respectfully disagree. Not because I’m opposed to the idea – in general – of teammates sticking up for teammates and policing the ice by seeking, and getting, justice. That is usually the honorable thing to do. But in this instance, the last thing the Blues needed was to land in the penalty box, give up a power play goal, get a key player kicked out – or all three. Why give Colorado a real-time advantage during the game? Vengeance can wait.
I wanted the Blues to respond in a different way: by turning up their competitive intensity to swarm the Avs with a disruptive forecheck, put obstacles in place to reclaim the neutral zone, and squeeze the Avs playmakers by cutting off as much space and passing lanes as possible.
This was the time for the Blues – who were leading 1-0 before Binnington’s wipeout – to assert themselves with more passion and fervor to take control of Game 3.
Instead, they did the opposite.
Binnington was a victim, yes. But in this situation his teammates couldn’t lapse into a victim mentality by pausing to feel sorry for themselves. This was a time for a show of competitive strength to let the Avs know that nothing would get them down … not even the Binnington wipeout.
Sure, I understand how the Blues could be deflated after watching their molten-hot goaltender taken out on the NHL’s equivalent of a mob hit. But it’s the second round of the postseason with only eight teams still left in the hunt. The Blues were in a 1-1 series draw and had the early edge in Game 3. But after the “Get Binnington” was executed the Blues let down and the Avs took dominion over Game 3.
You want revenge? Win the freaking game and have Kadri and his mates walk out of Enterprise Center with a second consecutive loss and the increasing burden of doubt. You didn’t have to make the Avs bleed on Saturday night; it was best to make them sweat and lose confidence. The Blues never seized the opportunity.
Worst of all, they let a fired-up Kadri jump on them for the go-ahead goal that gave the Avs a 2-1 lead, and he followed with an assist on Artturi Lehkonen’s score that made it 3-1. Again, the home team’s lack of a response was a major fail. The Blues didn’t attack Kadri physically, which was fine with me. But in the area that really mattered – prevailing in Game 3 – the Blues couldn’t contain Kadri, who made plays that were paramount in Colorado’s win.
You didn’t have to punch him, fellas. But could you at least get in his way, slow him down and prevent the villain from defeating you with his hockey skills? The Blues gave Kadri a free pass and he went on to have a complete, indisputable victory over them.
The reality of the Binnington injury aside, that’s what bugged me most of all: The Blues turning weak at the worst possible time, and having a low-urgency mindset after captain Ryan O’Reilly gave them new hope with a late second-period goal that brought the Blues within 3-2.
In a bewildering display of flatness and averageness the Blues never ignited in the third period. They didn’t make a push in the third period. They didn’t score. They had only eight shots on goal overall, and seven at five on five. They had one high-danger scoring chance over the final 20 minutes. Where was the pressure, the thrust, the championship pedigree that I frequently praise?
The Blues now turn their minds to Game 4 … at least I hope so. Instead of continuing to let Kadri occupy our collective headspace, I think we should be barking about the non-contributions of Blues that aren’t doing enough.
But first, a paragraph on Ville Husso. He didn’t impress after replacing Binnington, but I wouldn’t downgrade him for that. The team didn’t play well around him, and we know he’s capable of doing better … much better. This season Husso ranked tied for sixth with a .919 save among NHL goaltenders that clocked at least 1,500 minutes at all strengths. His high-danger save percentage (.853) ranked fourth among the 48. And Husso’s .926 home save percentage was fifth-best in the league. He should give the Blues a terrific performance Monday night in Game 5 at Enterprise Center.
Will all of his teammates have Husso’s back? Or will we see them vanish on the ice?
Where have the nine 20-goal scorers gone?
At five on five, Ryan O’Reilly has two goals and two assists in three games vs. the Avs. Jordan Kyrou and David Perron each have a single goal at five on five.
At five on five:
– Vladimir Tarasenko has no goals or assists and only five shots on net in 45 minutes of play.
– Pavel Buchnevich has no goals, two assists, and one shot on net in 51+ minutes.
– Brayden Schenn has no goals, one assist and four shots on net in 50 minutes.
– Robert Thomas, who is a minus 5 in the series, has no goals, two assists and two shots on net in 49 minutes.
– Brandon Saad has no goals or assists and six shots in 43 minutes.
– Ivan Barbashev has no goals, three assists and three shots in 38 minutes.
The six forwards listed above combined for 158 goals (all strengths) during the regular season. Beginning with Game 4, they must be more visible and vital.
The 2019 Blues overcame the preposterous and illegal hand-pass violation by San Jose that set up the Sharks’ winning goal in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final. The Blues responded like the champs they soon would become by winning three straight from the Sharks to end the series.
What happened Saturday night wasn’t a hand pass. It was a free pass for Kadri, and the Blues handed it to him. This was the low point of their 2022 postseason so far. They have to reach a high point in Game 4. Defeating the Avalanche would be a tremendous statement by the Blues: you can take out our goaltender, but we’re more determined than ever to beat you in this series.
The Blues can’t lose Monday night and fall behind Colorado 3-1 in the series. But win tonight and it’s a 2-2 series going back to Denver for Game 5. It won’t be easy, and no one would be surprised to see the Avs come after Husso at some point. Why? Because they can. And the NHL won’t do a damn thing about it. Only the Blues can control their immediate future by rising above any garbage that’s thrown their way. They couldn’t do that in Game 3. They better do it now.
Thanks for reading …
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All stats used here were sourced from Hockey Reference, Natural Stat Trick, and Evolving Hockey unless otherwise noted.