DENVER (AP) — That water bottle tossed toward Colorado Avalanche forward Nazem Kadri hardly came out of nowhere.
For two straight postseasons, Kadri has been the agitator that makes Colorado go and the pest that drives the St. Louis Blues crazy.
In Saturday night’s 5-2 victory, Kadri’s collision with Blues defenseman Calle Rosen ended with him in the lap of St. Louis goalie Jordan Binnington, who left the game in the first period with a lower-body injury and is now out of the playoffs.
Binnington was the most likely candidate among those who might have pitched a water bottle in Kadri's direction while he was doing an on-camera postgame interview.
The controversial collision, the water bottle, the series-ending injury to Binnington — all of it comes almost exactly 52 weeks after Kadri's hit on Justin Faulk, who missed the rest of that playoff series and resulted in an eight-game suspension for Kadri.
There's no love lost in St. Louis for Kadri.
“Look at Kadri’s reputation,” said Blues coach Craig Berube, whose team trails the second-round series 2-1. “That’s all I’ve got to say.”
The Blues were turning the page Sunday after learning Binnington was done for the series and goaltender Charlie Lindgren was recalled from the Springfield Thunderbirds of the AHL “under emergency conditions." Ville Husso stepped in after Binnington left.
“You don’t focus on just him,” Blues center Brayden Schenn said of Kadri. “You focus on going out there and winning a hockey game. That’s all you can control.”
Kadri has been on his best behavior all season and into the playoffs. Maybe even to the point of shying away from plays that might land him in trouble given his past.
“Listen, reputation, it doesn’t mean anything: It’s either a legal play or it’s not,” said Avalanche coach Jared Bednar, whose team lost defenseman Samuel Girard (broken sternum) for the playoffs on a check from Ivan Barbashev into the boards. “We’ve talked about this with Naz and the way he’s trying to change his reputation, making sure he’s playing through checks. ... They're both going after the puck the same way. They collide. Again, unfortunate.”
More unfortunate may be what the Avalanche called “threats” made toward Kadri. The team said in a statement it's aware of the situation and is "working with local law enforcement to investigate."
Former player Akim Aliu said on Twitter earlier Sunday he had spoken with Kadri.
“Naz has been subject to so many racist attacks and threats since last night that police had to be brought in,” said Aliu, who is Nigerian-Canadian. “Racist attacks like this have no place in hockey and should be investigated and reported on.”
On the ice, Kadri brings a physical presence to an Avalanche lineup filled with speed. He plays with an edge that has on occasion gotten him into hot water.
Last season, Kadri delivered a blow to the head of Faulk in Game 2. Kadri missed the final two games as Colorado swept the Blues and then the entire Vegas series, where Colorado was eliminated in six games.
That hit, missing a physical Vegas series, led to some sleepless nights for Kadri. He addressed the situation in an essay recently published in the Players' Tribune titled “I Am Who I Am.”
“I hate letting people down, I really do. And when I looked up from the ice and saw Justin lying there … I knew what was coming. I knew,” Kadri wrote. “It was a bang-bang play and I made a mistake. I’m never trying to hurt anyone out there. I know people might not want to hear any of this, or they’ve already made their minds up about me. I get that.”
Fair or unfair, the incident Saturday becomes the latest chapter. On the TNT broadcast, longtime NHL referee Don Koharski termed it a hockey play.
St. Louis fans certainly didn't agree, booing Kadri each time he touched the puck. There could be even more venom in Game 4 on Monday night; the Blues' Robert Bortuzzo, asked about the Binnington collision, said only that “a guy like that knows what he’s doing there.”
“I’m just trying to go out there and try to win and compete,” said Kadri, who was momentarily distracted by the water bottle tossed in his direction during the interview and indicated it may been from Binnington. “If people take that personally, that’s on them. For me, what happens on the ice, kind of stays on the ice. I’m a competitor. I want to win and that’s it.”
Nashville players tried to agitate Kadri in Colorado's first-round sweep. In Game 1, the Predators pushed him from behind at the end of the second period. Kadri got up furious and ready to square off. Avalanche defenseman Josh Manson took up the fight for him, drawing a roughing call.
“I’m not going to let them step in against Naz,” Manson explained. “I don’t want to see a guy drop his gloves against Naz and Naz have to fight him in the playoffs.”
Especially given his playoff track record. While with Toronto, he was suspended the remainder of the first round in 2019 for cross-checking, which turned out to be five games, and three games for boarding in 2018. The Maple Leafs dealt him to Colorado in the summer of 2019.
This season, he's been an integral part of a Stanley Cup favorite. Kadri led the Avalanche with 59 assists in the regular season and scored 28 goals.
“He’s been a great player for us all year,” Avalanche forward Logan O’Connor said. “Obviously, there’s some animosity between the Blues fanbase, and maybe the team, and him. He definitely elevates his games in those environments. He sort of relishes it."
AP freelance writer David Solomon in St. Louis contributed to this report.
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Pat Graham, The Associated Press