Rutherford: Blues have only themselves to blame for falling into Nazem Kadri trap


So which word did the Blues actually follow through on?

They said they weren’t going to focus on Colorado’s Nazem Kadri. They were going to focus on winning a game. Well, they did neither.

If you’re going to completely mishandle the Kadri situation, you’ve got to at least shoot the puck, right?

The Blues had three shots on goal in the first period. Kadri finished the game with three goals in the Avalanche’s 6-3 victory in Game 4.

His hat trick, which led to several lids being thrown onto the ice at Enterprise Center, was an embarrassing response by the Blues to the collision that knocked out starting goalie Jordan Binnington in Game 3. Even Binnington, watching Game 4 from a suite, was wincing.

After Binnington limped off the ice with a sprained knee on Saturday, Kadri had four goals and an assist in back-to-back games for the Avs, who are now in position to clinch with a victory in Game 5 on Wednesday at Ball Arena.

In two seasons, Kadri has knocked Blues defenseman Justin Faulk and now Binnington out of the playoffs, and what the Blues have to show for it are two after-the-fact, regular-season fights with him — Brayden Schenn on Oct. 16, 2021, and Faulk on Oct. 28.

Kadri and the Avs have a first-round series sweep over the Blues last season, they’re on the cusp of a second-round win, and he was laughing all the way to the team bus after mocking Blues coach Craig Berube.

“Look at Kadri’s reputation,” Berube said when asked about Kadri’s intentions in the collision. “That’s all I’ve got to say.”

Kadri took exception.

“He made some comments that I wasn’t a fan of,” he said. “I guess he’s never heard of bulletin-board material. I don’t know what that was about. But like I said, there were a lot of people saying a lot of things. I’ve got to tune it out. I’ll step up when I have to.”

The Blues were critical of Kadri, but insisted on Sunday that they need to put their attention on evening the series in Game 4.

“We’ll move on and worry about winning a hockey game,” Schenn said.

But early in the first period, it was Schenn who was asking Kadri for a fight. Kadri didn’t bite.

You can’t question Schenn for trying. He’s always a willing participant in those situations, and if Kadri obliges, perhaps it’s settled for the night.

“That’s the way (Schenn) is,” Berube said. “He’s a team guy, and after he did that, it was over. We were just playing hockey.”

Oh, it was just the start.

The Blues took a 1-0 lead on a goal by David Perron five minutes into the game, but that was just a facade. The Avs outshot them 15-3 in the first period, including 5-1 in high-danger chances.

If you’re into in-game betting, that was the time to wager on the visitors.

In the first five minutes of the second period, Colorado cashed in for three goals from Erik Johnson, Devon Toews, and, you guessed it, Kadri.

And he wasn’t done.

About a minute after the Avs went up 3-1, Kadri and Perron came together near the teams’ benches. Kadri gave Perron a shove, and as a result, the Blues’ Pavel Buchnevich cross-checked Kadri from behind, sending him to the ice face-first.

Kadri started to get up and then Perron cross-checked him back to the ice and jumped on top of him.

I asked Perron if it was too hard not to play into Kadri’s hands.

“I don’t know if it was just about him,” Perron said. “It was about creating a spark. I just felt like we were up 1-0, we had three shots or whatever and then they were up 3-1. I just didn’t feel like we had enough pushback.”

You can decide whether Perron would’ve responded the same way to Nathan MacKinnon or not, but either way, it backfired.

Referee Kelly Sutherland gave the Blues two minor penalties — Buchnevich for roughing and Perron for cross-checking — and put Colorado, already ahead 3-1, on a five-on-three power play.

Berube said “Kadri and Perron probably should have been two each and we’d be down two minutes with Buchy,” but even Perron didn’t disagree with the Avs getting a two-man advantage, saying, “I thought the refs probably made the right calls.”

The Blues actually killed it off. But just seconds later, there was Kadri scoring his second goal of the game for a 4-1 lead.

As Kadri scored the goal, Perron put up an elbow as he skated by, but missed him.

Kadri shrugged it off.

“That’s just stupid penalties that we cashed in on and it hurt them,” he said. “If you lose your cool, we’ll make you pay.”

The sellout crowd of 18,096 booed him, and there were even some obscene gestures.

“If you want to boo, by all means,” Kadri said. “That doesn’t bother me at all. Half the time I don’t even notice it. So, I’m just going to continue to worry about my matchup and take care of business.”

That’s exactly what the Avs were hoping for from the Blues in Game 4, and they obliged.

“It’s about the same thing we talked about,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “It’s not about ego. It’s not about settling scores as tough as that would have been for him. It’s about winning.”

The Blues pulled to within 4-3 on goals by Perron and Buchnevich late in the second period, but midway through the third period, there was Kadri again, scoring his third of the game for a 5-3 lead.

The Avs combined for 10 goals in Game Nos. 3-4 and Kadri had four of them.

As productive as Kadri has been in the series, however, he’s not the sole reason the Blues are in a hole.

They’re in this position primarily because Perron and O’Reilly are the only ones scoring in this series, all while containing the Avs’ big line of MacKinnon and Mikko. MacKinnon remains without a goal through four games, and Rantanen didn’t have one until scoring an empty-netter late in Game 4.

Schenn, Robert Thomas and Ivan Barbashev — all 20-goal scorers in the regular season — are still looking for their first goal of the postseason, and Buchnevich finally got his first in Game 4. Vladimir Tarasenko had five goals against Minnesota, but has none in this series.

What happened to the Blues’ balanced offense?

“I’m not too sure,” O’Reilly said. “We didn’t build the game enough consistently as a group, setting each other up enough, especially tonight. When we’re having success, we’re putting that puck in and it’s wave after wave, guys setting each other up a bit more. It’s tough to do; obviously, it’s a good team over there.”

“We need a lot more guys to step up, for sure, in that department,” Berube said. “If you want to score goals, you’ve got to get to the hard areas. We need more. We need more from other guys.”

And with Binnington out, goalie Ville Husso has been ordinary. He gave up five goals on 36 shots in Monday’s loss and is now 1-4 in the postseason with a 3.76 goals-against average and an .884 save percentage.

“Looks like a lot of our guys; he’s got to be better,” Berube said. “He got out in a tough situation, but that’s the way it goes.”

Who would have ever thought, after the Blues’ defense was the biggest question mark throughout the regular season, that we’d be focusing on the offense and goaltending in the playoffs?

Who would have ever thought that for the second year in a row, Kadri would be taking advantage of the Blues?

 (Photo: Andy Cross / MediaNews Group / The Denver Post via Getty Images)





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