Avalanche take series stranglehold, but lament the 'most dangerous play in hockey'

Valeri Nichushkin scored two goals and J.T. Compher netted the game-winner midway through the third period as the Colorado Avalanche defeated the Edmonton Oilers 4-2 to take a decisive 3-0 series lead in the Western Conference Final playoff series.

EDMONTON — Gabe Landeskog called it the kind of play that leaves you with chills.

Jared Bednar called it the most dangerous play in hockey.

No matter what you call it, the decision by Edmonton Oilers left-winger Evander Kane to push a vulnerable Nazem Kadri from behind and into the end boards just 66 seconds into Game 3 of the Western Conference Final had a massive impact on Saturday night — and it could have far-reaching ramifications on the Stanley Cup Playoff push for the Colorado Avalanche.

Sure, the Oilers survived the five-minute boarding major that was assessed to Kane thanks to the superb effort of Oilers goalie Mike Smith — who faced nine shots on goal during the penalty — and the Avalanche ended up taking a commanding 3-0 series lead with a tidy 4-2 victory even after losing one of their best players.

But Kadri is done for at least the remainder of the series with a suspected right thumb injury, the result of bracing himself for impact so he wouldn’t crash head-first into the boards at full speed.

“He’s out, he’ll be out for the series at least, if not longer,” said Bednar. “The hit, it’s the most dangerous play in hockey. He puts him in head-first from behind, eight feet from the boards. I’ll leave it at that.”

Landeskog was on the bench as the play transpired but he saw enough of it to know it’s something that shouldn’t have happened and it’s something that could very well result in supplementary discipline for Kane from the NHL Department of Player Safety.

“I don't like it. Those are the ones that kind of give you the chills down your spine, and you're taught from a young age that you don't do that, and especially in that distance from the boards,” said Landeskog. “It's a dangerous play, and, yeah, I don't know what else to say. I'm sure they'll take a look at it.”

Rogers Place was buzzing after Oilers captain Connor McDavid scored on the first shot of the game just 38 seconds into the game, but Kane’s penalty stemmed some of the early momentum.

Kane didn’t fully deliver a cross-check to Kadri even though his stick was in the middle of his back, but he didn’t fully let up either and he definitely pushed him on the numbers — though that wasn’t his interpretation of the play.

“I was just coming in on the backcheck. Puck went wide, kind of dribbled into the corner. I know he likes to reverse hit. I was just trying to get a bump on him, that’s really all I did,” said Kane. “Unfortunately he went into the boards awkwardly and hurt his hand.”

No matter what the intent was, the loss of Kadri is a blow for the Avalanche, who are already without starting goalie Darcy Kuemper.

The steady play of backup Pavel Francouz has helped minimize the loss of Kuemper so far and there was some encouraging news for the Avalanche on that front as he was back on the ice on Saturday after the formal portion of the morning skate had wrapped up.

Francouz allowed the McDavid goal through the five-hole and whiffed on a shot from Oilers centre Ryan McLeod that tied the game, but he finished with 27 saves.

His best of the night was a sprawling glove stop on McDavid during an Edmonton power play just past the midway point of the third period.

Later in the man-advantage, Oilers defenceman Evan Bouchard rattled a shot off the post and then J.T. Compher came out of the penalty box, won a puck battle and beat Smith for what was the game-winner.

“Shot 5-hole and I didn't see it go in. I thought it was in his pads the way he was moving. It took me a second to get there. It was nice to see when I finally did see it (go) in the net,” said Compher. “We hope Naz is okay. Such a big part of our team all regular season, playoffs, in the locker room, vocal leader. Hard-working guy. A lot of guys did a good job to step up and get a win for him.”

With Kadri out for the foreseeable future, the Avalanche are likely to lean on the entire forward group, since this isn’t a one-person job.

“You lose a guy of Naz’s stature and the role that he plays, someone has to step up, if not multiple guys,” said Bednar. “His role will be filled by committee. I mean, that's how big of a player he is for us. It could be one guy one night and a different guy the next. I'm comfortable with it. Obviously it's a huge loss but it's out of our control.

“So we’ve got to move on and next man up mentality and we've been doing that all year.”

On Saturday, Valeri Nichushkin provided two goals for the Avalanche, his first two of the series to go along with his tenacious forechecking and dependable defensive play.

Mikko Rantanen closed out the scoring with an empty-netter, giving him three goals and five points in the series. He’s been a force.

Compher had a quiet start to the Stanley Cup Playoffs offensively as well, but he’s up to five goals during his past four games and doing a great job of leading the secondary scoring brigade.

The Avalanche improved to 6-0 in the post-season and they’ve outscored their opponents 30-15 during those games.

Part of the reason for that lopsided nature of the scoring was on display on Saturday, as the Avalanche did a great job of limiting second-chance opportunities for the Oilers.

Most of the offence created by the Oilers on Saturday resulted in a one-and-done situation and the sacrifices Bednar has been harping on all season long were evident throughout and highlighted by a couple of late shot blocks by Artturi Lehkonen and a smart read by Rantanen that provided the insurance marker.

“We're here to hopefully make it boring and gross and just play a good two-way game,” said Avalanche centre Nathan MacKinnon. “There's no show to put on when we're on the road, and it kind of feels like we're just playing the right way. But that's all over with.

“We're 0-0 going into the next game, it's a brand new game and we've got to come out extremely strong because we're going to see their best, for sure."

The Oilers are running low on time to find their best game, while the Avalanche have already shown that their best is pretty difficult to overcome for any team, never mind one that now has to win four consecutive games to keep their season alive. 

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