To be blunt, engaging in the blame game isn’t going to have much of an impact on the outcome of this intense, Western Conference series.
It’s understandable why the St. Louis Blues would be frustrated right now, of course. They lost Jordan Binnington for at least the remainder of this duel with the Colorado Avalanche, which they trail in 2-1, after Nazem Kadri collided with their goalie in Game 3. But this is one of those situations where taking a number is required.
Don’t get me wrong, if there is an opportunity to exact some in-game revenge on Kadri — whether his actions were accidental or accidentally on purpose — the Blues will take advantage of every chance they get to land a hit on him.
The Avalanche centre was already on the Blues’ radar going into the series for his illegal check to the head of Justin Faulk during the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs that resulted in an eight-game suspension. His role in the collision that has knocked Binnington out of this matchup with a suspected knee injury has been a major talking point the past two days — for its impact on the series, and beyond it.
On Sunday, the Avalanche said they were working with law enforcement officials to investigate threats made toward Kadri. Akim Aliu, the co-founder of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, said he spoke to Kadri, who shared he had been subjected to “racist attacks and threats.”
Conduct like that is, plainly, horrible and intolerable. While the investigation unfolds away from the rink, the series itself resumes on Monday.
Since the collision, the Blues have seemed to straddle that fine line between letting it be known they weren’t OK with what had transpired between Kadri and Binnington, yet also realizing they couldn’t spend a whole lot of time worrying about how they would retaliate.
“As for the play, we’re not going to talk about it too much. You ask any player there who’s played the game, you assume a guy who knows what he’s doing,” Blues defenceman Robert Bortuzzo told reporters in St. Louis on Sunday. “But having said that we’re not going to misplace anywhere energy moving forward here.”
For the record, the Blues weren’t buying Kadri’s explanation that he was pushed into Binnington by Blues defenceman Calle Rosen, since the video evidence suggests Kadri was the one who initiated the contact with Rosen while trying to hunt down the loose puck near the blue paint after Binnington made a save but couldn’t prevent a rebound.
“I just think from his comments, he said that he got pushed and he’s behind our guy (Rosen), so I don’t know how that makes sense,” Blues forward Brayden Schenn told reporters. “But we’ll move on and worry about winning a hockey game.
“Here to win the series, that’s what it boils down to. You don’t focus on just him. You focus on going out there and winning a hockey game. That’s all you can really control.”
Easier said than done, of course.
Aside from the collision with Binnington, Kadri had a huge impact on Game 3, providing a beautiful tip-in goal after a shot by Cale Makar, while also setting up Artturi Lehkonen for the eventual game-winner late in the second period with a perfect pass off the wall, after Schenn poked a rebound attempt over the net at the other end.
There’s little doubt the Blues will try to use this situation as something to rally around after the 5-2, Game 3 loss.
Yes, it’s a big blow, given how well Binnington has been playing since reclaiming the crease in Game 4 of the opening-round series with the Minnesota Wild.
Never mind the eye-popping numbers (4-1 record, 1.79 goals-against average, .949 save percentage) he produced, the confidence Binnington was exuding between the pipes has been infectious.
Blues head coach Craig Berube confirmed on Sunday, Binnington is gone for at least the remainder of this series. He won’t require surgery, yet the only way he gets back is if his time finds a way to advance at least past the second round.
The Blues won’t move on if they’re more concerned about chasing Kadri around the ice or taking silly penalties trying to settle a score.
The only chance the Blues have is if they remain committed to playing a determined and structured style of play that has slowed the high-octane Avalanche attack at various points through three games.
Another big factor could be Blues goalie Ville Husso, whose ability to morph into the starting role was a storyline all season long.
After posting a 37-save shutout in the series opener against the Minnesota Wild, Husso has given up 13 goals, leaving his playoff numbers (1-3 record, 3.38 goals-against average, .891 save percentage) looking pedestrian and nothing like a guy who is likely to cash in as an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Yet this shouldn’t be viewed as a dire situation for the Blues, as Husso has it in him.
“It’s a tough loss. You know, we’re not going to sugarcoat that but at the same time, we have a guy who has been great for us all year and I’m sure he’s excited to get in there and step up for us,” said Bortuzzo. “He’s just a kid who seems pretty unflappable. He’s got great energy in the room. Just a true character who plays with a lot of passion and I’m sure he’s champing at the bit to get in there.
“He was put in a tough spot last game, coming into a playoff game, but you can see how the fans reacted. I’m sure he’s going to embrace that. And as a team we know what we got back there. So we’re very comfortable.”
There’s a good reason for that.
“Obviously, unfortunate injury and at the same time we have full confidence in Ville,” said Schenn. “Both guys have had the net at times this year and both guys are very capable of winning hockey games. We’re looking forward to seeing what Ville can do and when he’s in the net, we’re just as confident.”
Husso showed he could carry the mail during the regular season, going 25-7-6 with a 2.56 goals-against average and .919 save percentage as the Blues finished second in the Central Division behind the Avalanche.
The Blues also recalled goalie Charlie Lindgren from the Springfield Thunderbirds of the American Hockey League on Sunday.
The Avalanche lost a key player for this series on Saturday as well, with minute-munching defenceman Sam Girard out with a broken sternum, the result of a clean, but jarring hit from Blues forward Ivan Barbashev less than two minutes into the game.
Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar probably knows who he is going to turn to, but wasn’t tipping his hand on Sunday about whether it would be Ryan Murray or Jack Johnson (the likely choice) coming into the lineup. Kurtis MacDermid would also be an option, especially if Bednar was looking to add a bit more of a deterrent on the physical side of things.
“Whoever fills that spot is going to be ready,” Avalanche blueliner Devon Toews told reporters. “Most of those guys were regulars for us at certain times of the year.”