At this point, there isn’t much left to say. The Colorado Avalanche are not only the superior team in terms of talent and depth, but they have bigger hearts than the Blues, more competitive character than the Blues, more composure than the Blues, and more intelligence than the Blues.
And that’s why the Avs are skating away – probably giggling – and leading this second-round series 3-1. Colorado can officially liquidate the Blues in Game 5 Wednesday in Denver.
It’s almost as if these teams have switched their respective identities.
Coming into this engagement the Blues were supposed to be the mentally tough team with a championship pedigree and immense resilience. A strong five-on-five team loaded with timely, goal-scoring bravura. The team that knows how to win at this critical time of the season. The team that gets bowled over or shut down, only to rise to emerge with a victory.
The Avalanche were fragile, and unsure of themselves after crumpling in three consecutive postseasons, 2019 through 2021. Put pressure on this team, give them reasons to think about recent failures, and the Avs would crack. When a key game got away, the distress intensified and another postseason series was about to turn, their response was faint. Instead of pushing back, the Avs would be pushed out.
That was the narrative, and I went with it. There was considerable truth in these team sketches and outlines – yeah, if the Blues had gotten whacked without putting much resistance in two straight postseasons after winning the Stanley Cup.
The Blues still had many players remaining from the remarkably tenacious 2019 team that made history, and their experience would make a difference in 2022.
On the other bench in the rink were the Avalanche, challenged to prove that they were more than a sharp and attractive silhouette. The Avs had to exhibit the substance to match the style and a hardness that mattered a helluva lot more than hype.
In Games 3 and 4 in St. Louis, the teams traded personalities and swapped reputations and reordered the narrative. The Avalanche began the process of erasing their postseason past. And the Blues couldn’t connect to their past … not that they tried all that much.
The Blues became the soft team that completely folded under pressure, with too many of their key players checking out and succumbing to Colorado’s might.
The Avalanche became the team with the willpower and the marrow and the relentless drive. The Avs didn’t just beat the Blues in two games at Enterprise Center; they humiliated the home team in front of sellout crowds that saw their team get overrun by a rapacious opponent.
In the two defeats that set up their almost certain elimination, the Blues were outscored 11-5, had their once-prominent five-on-five strength get stripped away, and were destroyed by series villain Nazem Kadri.
What Kadri did to Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington in Game 3 was wrong, period – no matter how many TV-panel personalities want to portray him as the star of a feel-good hockey film about one man’s inspirational redemption.
Maybe Disney will make the Kadri movie … and leave out the scenes of his violent on-ice attacks on mostly helpless opponents through the years. You gotta love our sports culture, eh? In a matter of seconds, Kadri went from an established, repeat-offender scoundrel to the last of the innocents who deserves our deep and everlasting sympathy.
I thought I heard one of the dudes on TNT nominate Kadri for the Nobel Prize, but I was kind of drowsy at the time and could be wrong.
The threats and racist slurs made against Kadri by the usual social-media vermin are a different subject. You can “hate on” an athlete you dislike – but the actual hatred directed at Kadri was despicable.
As for the fan-level animosity which happens in all markets, Kadri went after Binnington because the NHL made these things possible by enabling him. The penalties levied against him by league authorities have never been a sufficient deterrent. Your anger should be directed at the people who run the National Hockey League.
Oh, yeah … and before I forget: if Kadri played for the Blues, 98 percent of the fans would revere him. They’d be lining up for autographs, and adults and kids would be wearing his Blues replica sweater. Avalanche fans worship him because he plays for Colorado’s team. And if he played for, say, St. Louis? Well, now. Avalanche fans would insist that he’s the worst person in the world!
Say this for Kadri: instead of withering in the fire of hostility and controversy, he stood up and responded in the best possible way: by taking the Blues apart. In the back-to-back victories inside the House of Blues, Kadri scored four goals and assisted on two others.
Kadri’s hat trick in Monday’s 6-3 Game 4 triumph was just part of his demolition; he also caused the Blues to go crazy and lose track of, well, you know, the outcome of the game. The Blues lost their focus. They lost the purpose of their mission: win, and tie the series 2-2.
For the second consecutive game, Kadri all but used a remote device to control the Blues’ minds.
The Blues attempts at payback were just as effective as their attempts at playing winning hockey. Kadri absorbed the negative energy and rechanneled it into dynamism that conquered the Blues.
In Game 4 the Blues’ five on five foundation collapsed: they sputtered for only 14 shots on goal, had 23 percent of the scoring chances, 25% of the high-danger shots, and were outscored 5-1.
Combining Games 3 and 4, the Blues were outscored 9-3 at five on five, and their shots count was abysmal. Ville Husso wasn’t good in his 91 minutes and 34 seconds of work at five on five after replacing the injured Binnington, the Avs scored nine goals on their 55 shots and left Husso with a bleak .853 save percentage over the two losses.
Husso had little support, and Colorado’s shot volume was too much. And with the Blues straining to score goals at five on five, the Blues couldn’t afford to give up really bad goals through subpar goaltending. In the two losses Husso was burned for two low-danger goals and four medium-danger scores.
You can’t win in those circumstances – especially when so many of your goal-scorers have turned invisible.
In Games 3 and 4 Kadri scored more five-on-five goals (4) than the entire Blues team (3.)
Here’s the list of Blues that haven’t scored at five on five in this series: Vladimir Tarasenko, Pavel Buchnevich, Brayden Schenn, Robert Thomas, Brandon Saad, Ivan Barbashev and Justin Faulk. The seven combined for 109 goals at five on five during the regular season.
Kadri is an outstanding player, but he shouldn’t be depositing more 5v5 goals than the entire Blues team over two games. But hey, here we are. Kadri used to be the guy who did stupid things in the postseason to hurt his own team. And now he’s getting the Blues to do stupid things in the postseason to hurt themselves. Kadri is supposed to be the unhinged, unglued man. But the Blues got unhinged and unglued instead.
Chasing Kadri around the ice and later shoving, tackling and cross-checking him to set up a 5-on-3 power play for Colorado is exactly what you do when you’ve given up on the idea of winning. And the Blues did have a chance to win both home games; in each contest they trailed by one goal going into the third period. And then … nothing.
And that’s why, in this series, the Blues are the soft team that the Avs used to be during postseason crunch time.
Thanks for reading …
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All stats used here were sourced from Hockey Reference, Evolving Hockey or Hockey Reference.