The Avalanche skated off the Rogers Place ice on Wednesday with yet another thwacking of the Coyotes. For the second straight game, they dominated the club from the desert 7-1, and they sealed a trip to the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs' second round.
And once again, the win was powered by the team's leading goal guy in the bubble — Nazem Kadri.
"Naz has really found a way to impact our hockey club in a great way, whether it's on the power play or 5-on-5 or just that little extra sandpaper that I felt that we needed last year," captain Gabriel Landeskog said postgame. "So, he's been good for us and he's one those guys that can kind of help out in all areas of the game and he's a great guy in the locker room as well. He's really helped us out, so it's been a lot of fun playing with Naz."
In eight postseason games, Kadri has led the charge for the Avs with six goals and five assists; seven of those points came against the Coyotes.
It's a far cry from where he was last year — and, truthfully, the year before — when he watched most of the playoffs from the press box with the Maple Leafs.
After posting back-to-back 32-goal seasons, Kadri went through a disappointing 2018-19 season. The 2009 Maple Leafs first-round draft pick potted just 16 goals and compiled just 44 points in 73 games before only lasting two postseason games because of yet another suspension. He had been suspended the year prior against the same Bruins squad. Toronto lost both series.
Now Kadri, who was traded on Day 1 of free agency in 2019, is a dominating figure for an Avalanche team that just eviscerated the Coyotes.
"Reflecting on the time I spent in Toronto, just looking back, obviously you want to learn from your mistakes and just trying to mature as a person and as a player and as a teammate," Kadri said after scoring two in Game 5, including his NHL-leading fifth power-play goal. "I think I'm no more valuable on the ice than I am in the penalty box or in the press box. So, just trying to stay calm out there and composed and, like I said, I just want to help my team win and I think staying in games would do that."
Mature words from the 29-year-old Kadri, who notched 36 points in 51 games in the regular season, cemented himself as the team's second-line center and became a key cog on the power play. Oh, and not only has he avoided any suspensions despite still playing a physical game, but he also hasn't spent a single second in the sin bin in the last 19 days.
"I talked to Naz when he first got to us a little bit about his history in Toronto and some of the penalties and his reputation and he stated right away that he had made some mistakes there and he was sort of past that and over that and it wouldn't be a problem," recalled coach Jared Bednar. "I said, 'Hey, listen, I want you to play your game and be physical and sort of toe the line and be highly competitive and be a difference-maker for us, but I don't want you in the box all the time. You're too big a piece to our team.'
"And he assured me that it wasn't going to be an issue and it hasn't been. . . . I think he's a real focused player right now because he wants to prove that he can get it done this time of year and he's certainly doing that right now."
When asked last week if he had a chip on his shoulder and something to prove, Kadri thought that was a pretty accurate assessment. So far, he has shown he can be a complete player who won't go over the edge. He has already surpassed his 10 career playoff points as a Leaf — and that was over the course of four playoff appearances, 19 games and zero series wins.
"The smile says it all," he said when asked about making it past the first round for the first time in his career. "I'm just fortunate, lucky to be in an opportunity to come into such a great dressing room with such great teammates, such a great organization, just gave me a chance to be who I can be.
"They believed in me since I stepped in the door and I'm just trying not to let them down."