NHL: Nazem Kadri’s OT goal puts Avs on brink of Stanley Cup title

Nazem Kadri’s return to the lineup was the kind players dream about: scoring the overtime winner to move the Colorado Avalanche within one victory of the Stanley Cup title.

Kadri’s tally gave Colorado a 3-2 victory over the host Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. The Avalanche lead the best-of-seven championship round 3-1 and will try to clinch the crown in Game 5 on Friday in Denver.

After missing four games due to a thumb surgery, Kadri became the hero when he lifted a shot from in close for his first-ever playoff overtime goal at 12:02 of the extra time.

“Oh man, roller coaster of emotions, thinking I was done and then having a sliver of hope and sitting here right now is surreal,” Kadri said postgame. “I was excited to join the team again. This is what I’ve been waiting for my whole life.”

Nathan MacKinnon and Andrew Cogliano also scored for the Avalanche.

Colorado goaltender Darcy Kuemper made 37 saves, 16 of them in the first period. He also became the first goalie to assist a Stanley Cup Final overtime winner.

Teams that hold a 3-1 lead in the Stanley Cup Final have gone on to win the series 35 of 36 times. The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs escaped a 3-0 hole in the finals to beat the Detroit Red Wings.

“We know the toughest game is coming up and it’s not going to be easy,” Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “They’re going to bring their best, and we need to do the same thing.”

Antony Cirelli and Victor Hedman scored for the Lightning, while goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 34 shots.

Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper was upset about the winner but didn’t divulge what bothered him.

“This one’s gonna sting much more than other,” Cooper said in a brief press conference. “It’s hard for me to speak. I’ll speak (Thursday) and you’re going to see what I mean when you see the winning goal. My heart breaks for the players because we probably should still be playing.”

Replays showed the Avalanche had six skaters on the ice when Kadri gained the puck in the neutral zone seconds before scoring. As well, Colorado defenseman Bowen Byram may have touched the puck with a high stick earlier on the play, which would have stopped the action.

Either way, it was more intrigue after a back-and-forth affair.

Cirelli opened the scoring just 36 seconds into the clash when he pounced on the rebound for his third goal of the playoffs, but MacKinnon’s power-play goal tied the score 5:17 into the second period. MacKinnon had the puck ricocheted off his skate and into the net for his 12th goal of the playoffs but first of the series.

Hedman restored the Lightning’s lead thanks to a perfectly placed long backhand shot just past the midway point of the second period for his third goal of the playoffs.

Cogliano tied the score again three minutes into the third period when Nico Sturm’s shot ricocheted off his leg and into the goal for his third of the playoffs.

The two-time defending champions couldn’t score again and now are one loss away from having their run end.

“We know what it feels like to be in their shoes, have a chance to win at home and it’s not an easy thing to do,” Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos said. “It’s a pretty nerve-wracking day. We can’t just sit here and feel sorry for ourselves. … It stings right now, but we’ve got to go there and win a hockey game.”

–Field Level Media

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