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When the Avalanche Needed a Hero, They Got One in Nazem Kadri

Nazem Kadri has a quiet return before scoring the biggest goal of his career, and now the Colorado Avalanche are a win away from taking the Stanley Cup.

Compared to the Nazem Kadri we saw before suffering a hand injury in Game 3 of the Western Conference final, the Nazem Kadri we saw in Game 4 wasn't even on the same planet. 

You could tell he still wasn't at 100 percent, despite what coach Jared Bednar told ESPN during the first period on Wednesday. 

Kadri, one of Colorado's elite offensive threats, had just one shot in regulation and was generally nowhere as effective as we're used to seeing. And that's exactly what we expected. But what he did -- or didn't do -- in the first 60 minutes didn't matter. 

Overtime is all that mattered, and after 12:02 of play in the extra frame, he converted on a breakaway with a goal nobody thought was in at first, going up high on Andrei Vasilevskiy. It was an awkward celebration for the Avalanche, but they won't care. 

They're a win away from winning the Stanley Cup.

Kadri's status was a big talking point during every practice and morning skate leading up to Game 4. He skated the past two days with the club, but seemed to struggle to get quality shots off -- sure, it was practice, but he looked in visible pain. But Kadri was thrust into the lineup on Wednesday and while he failed to crack the 20-minute mark, Bednar felt comfortable throwing him in the fire no matter what.

Before the injury, Kadri was one of the leading candidates for the Conn Smythe with 14 points in 13 games. It came on the heels of an 87-point campaign with Colorado, the best numbers of his career -- by far. Losing a player of Kadri's caliber would have been deadly for most teams, but not the Avalanche.

It's a great story that a guy returning from injury scored, because, in reality, anyone could have done it. The Lightning had a shot advantage throughout the game, before an Avalanche of opportunities for Colorado shifted the momentum their way in the do-or-die stanza. The whole overtime screamed of having a wonky game-winning goal, so of course it had to be one nobody saw go in in the first place.

Kadri's determination to get to this point, fighting through obvious pain to play for glory, can't be ignored. His typical in-your-face style wasn't present, and he shied away from getting too physical along the boards. He had a few looks throughout the game, but nothing too substantial until the OT-winner.

If you watched him in practice on Tuesday, the thought of seeing him in the lineup was far-fetched. You knew he wanted to be there, but hand injuries are pretty important when you're counted on to put up points every night. Kadri's absence could have been a huge turning point for the Avalanche, but their depth filled in. And when Kadri was ready, he delivered.

The Avalanche will have a chance to win it all on home ice on Friday in what will be an incredible Ball Arena crowd. The Avs have never lost a Stanley Cup in their existence, and with how utterly dominant this club has been throughout the playoffs, closing it out at home would be a fitting conclusion to what's been a wild playoff.

And there was no more fitting way for the Avalanche to win Game 4 than getting a goal from the team's latest Wolverine.


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