Nasty on and off ice, Blues-Avalanche series picking up steam

This epic battle has reached the attrition stage, with two key pieces landing on the sidelines.

With much of the focus on those injuries and the potential impact they could have on this Central Division playoff series and beyond, some verbal shots got tossed around, the reputation of one of the primary combatants was brought into question and Colorado Avalanche forward Nazem Kadri had a water bottle thrown at him while giving a post-game interview on the TNT broadcast.

Oh, and did we mention the individual who was believed to have tossed the aforementioned water bottle in his direction was none other than injured St. Louis Blues goalie Jordan Binnington?

With everything happening off the ice, it’s important not to forget that it was the Avalanche who came up with the latest roundhouse right in this battle between Western Conference heavyweights, taking a 2-1 series lead after a 5-2 triumph on Saturday night at Enterprise Center.

In the burgundy corner, Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar announced that defenceman Sam Girard has been lost for the remainder of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a broken sternum, the result of a jarring check from Ivan Barbashev that came less than two minutes into Game 3.

Over in the blue corner, Blues head coach Craig Berube said it was too early to tell when — or if — Binnington would be able to return from what appeared to be a knee injury after a collision involving teammate Calle Rosen and Kadri just 6:45 into the first period.

But that didn’t prevent Berube from taking a not-so-subtle shot at Kadri when asked for his thoughts on the play in question.

“Look at Kadri’s reputation,” Berube told reporters in St. Louis. “That’s all I’ve got to say.”

Berube went on to say Binnington was being evaluated and that he wouldn’t know much about the severity of the injury until at least Sunday, saying only that it was a lower-body issue.

Was he surprised there was no call on Kadri for goalie interference on the play?

“I don’t know. That’s not up to me,” said Berube.

Aren’t the rules of the game set up to protect the goalie?

“Yeah, they are,” said Berube, who was clearly not interested in saying something that might result in a fine. “Listen. Obviously, nobody likes what happened. That’s part of hockey and you’ve got other people that need to come in and step up and do that job.”

Based on the way Binnington went to the ice after Kadri was pursuing a rebound near the blue paint — and the way his right knee buckled when he tried to work his way through his warm-up routine when the Blues head athletic trainer Ray Barile came out onto the ice to check on him — it’s probably safe to presume the net belongs to Ville Husso for the foreseeable future.

As for the hit that knocked out Girard, Bednar confessed that he didn’t like the look of it in real time, but his opinion changed after getting another look at it.

“You know, I didn’t love it seeing it live. Looking back on it, it’s a heavy collision, (Barbashev) kind of comes around and he just catches him in a bad spot,” Bednar told reporters. “He kind of goes in on his head side, but he got a lot of body there. (Girard) was turned the wrong way and he went in awkward. It was a heavy check. Unfortunate, but to be honest I think it was a legal check.”

Bednar was caught a bit off guard when Berube’s comment about Kadri’s reputation was relayed to him on the podium.

“Reputation, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s either a legal play or it’s not, you know. We’ve talked about this with Naz (Kadri) and the way that he’s trying to change his reputation,” said Bednar. “Their D (Rosen) and Naz, they’re both going for a loose puck that’s sitting at the top of the crease. (Kadri) came in there downhill as hard as he could go. Both guys go in there, they’re both going after the puck the same way and they collide before they go in. Again, unfortunate, the same as Girard for me. That’s a legal play and you know, it’s unfortunate, but it is what it is.”

Kadri is no stranger to being public enemy No. 1 in a series and he’s already not popular with Blues fans, thanks in part to his illegal check to the head on defenceman Justin Faulk during the 2021 playoffs that led to an eight-game suspension.

“Obviously there’s some animosity between the Blues fan base, maybe the team, and him. But he definitely elevates his game in those environments,” said Avalanche forward Logan O’Connor, who was inserted on the fourth line and contributed an important goal that tied the game in the first period. “He sort of relishes it. When you get the whole arena booing you, you up your game for sure.”

As for the subject of Water Bottle Gate, Kadri didn’t seem all that bothered by it.

“Yeah. I think it was Binnington, but I was a little tied up, so … you’d have to ask him,” Kadri said. “I was doing the interview, so I wasn’t quite sure. But yeah, I think it was him. I don’t know. I don’t know for sure.

“From my perspective, there’s nothing personal. I’m just going out there to try to win and compete and 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.”

Kadri wasn’t sure why some folks might be suggesting he intentionally ran into Binnington.

“I just see a loose puck, really. It was kind of just sitting behind him and I just tried to poke it with my stick. I think their defenseman (Rosen) kind of collided with me and pushed me into (Binnington),” said Kadri, who added an assist on a goal from Artturii Lehkonen and is up to six points in seven games. “Had that not been the case, I don’t think I would have hit him at all. It’s a loose puck, I’m just trying to bang it in.”

Losing Binnington is a blow for the Blues as he’d been brilliant in this series, turning aside 84 of 88 shots on goal for a .955 save percentage.

Not only did he resemble the guy who led the Blues to the first Stanley Cup in franchise history back in 2019, the scary thing is that you could make the argument he was playing even better up until he got hurt.

“Obviously Binner’s the heart and soul, playing unbelievable,” Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly saod. “I think (the injury) kind of took the momentum away and took us a little too long to kind of get it back going again. Things like that happened. We’re a deep team and we could have done a better job of getting the momentum back and adjusting.”

The stat line for Husso wasn’t flattering (four goals on 21 shots on goal) in just over 51 minutes of relief, but that final marker he allowed came after he rushed to get back toward the goal when he was heading off in favour of an extra attacker late in the contest.

Husso, a pending unrestricted free agent, had an excellent season and is going to need to play the way that he did when he took over the starting job for the Blues after Binnington went through a rough patch.

As for the Avalanche, they survived an uneven start where nerves appeared to be a factor according to Bednar, but they got an outstanding effort from the five blue-liners who remained after Girard was knocked out of the contest.

All of Devon Toews, Josh Manson, Bowen Byram and Erik Johnson did their part, but Cale Makar really made his presence felt in this one — and not just because he picked up his first point of the series, assisting on the go-ahead goal by Kadri at 13:38 of the second period.

Makar found his skating legs and had a massive impact on the outcome, jumping up in the rush on numerous occasions, finishing with one shot on goal and nine shot attempts while logging just under 29 minutes of ice time.

“Cale doesn’t need his legs. He’s got his head and he’s got his hands,” said Kadri. “Obviously, he’s a miraculous skater and him skating at 50 percent is probably better than most. He’s such a mature kid at his age and it doesn’t matter if he’s feeling it or not, he’s going to get the job done. That’s just the kind of person that he is.”

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