Avalanche center Nazem Kadri, who over the previous 48 hours was the subject of racist attacks and threats following his injurious collision with Blues goalie Jordan Binnington, recorded his first career playoff hat trick in Colorado's 6-3 Game 4 road win on Monday night, pushing St. Louis to the brink of elimination.
"Unfortunately, I've been dealing with that a long time. That's sad to say, but I'm getting good at putting in the rearview mirror. It's a big deal. I try to act like it's not. Just try to keep moving forward," Kadri told TNT in a postgame interview. "I know those messages I got don't reflect every single fan in St. Louis. But for those that hate, that one's for them."
There was increased police presence both at the Avalanche's team hotel in St. Louis and around the players' entrance to the ice at Enterprise Center after local law enforcement was called in to investigate the threats made toward Kadri, which came in the aftermath of Saturday's Game 3 win by Colorado. During the first period on Saturday, Kadri and Blues defenseman Calle Rosen crashed into Binnington while chasing a loose puck. Binnington, who had been outstanding in five postseason games for St. Louis, suffered a lower-body injury that took him out of not only the game but also the series.
There was no penalty called on Kadri on the play, and the NHL Department of Player Safety determined there was no supplemental discipline necessary for him. But Blues coach Craig Berube questioned Kadri's role in the injury.
"Look at Kadri's reputation. That's all I've got to say," he said of Kadri, who has multiple postseason suspensions, including an eight-game ban for an illegal check to the head of St. Louis defenseman Justin Faulk in the 2021 playoffs.
Kadri said that Berube's comments upset him and provided fuel for his Game 4 effort, which helped Colorado take a 3-1 lead in its second-round playoff series.
"It started with their head coach, probably. He made some comments that I wasn't a fan of. I guess he's never heard of bulletin board material," Kadri said.
David Perron opened the scoring Monday night for the Blues, who were outplayed in the first period but carried that 1-0 lead into the second. Avs defenseman Erik Johnson's goal at 2:44 of the second period beat Ville Husso, whom Binnington had supplanted as Blues starter in the first round, to tie the game 1-1.
Kadri scored his first of the game just 1 minute, 23 seconds later, beating Husso on the rush and then motioning to the crowd with his hand to his ear.
Devon Toews scored 19 seconds after that for a 3-1 Colorado lead. Then Kadri finally drew the ire of the Blues.
The Avalanche center collided with Perron near the benches. St. Louis forward Pavel Buchnevich skated over and leveled Kadri for a roughing penalty. Perron then cross-checked Kadri to the ice and landed on top of him. As the linesmen pulled the players away, Kadri didn't engage with the Blues skaters, and Colorado earned a 5-on-3 power play.
Kadri scored his second of the game right after it expired to complete an Avalanche rally of four goals in 4:52.
"Our talk today coming into tonight's game was, 'Stay focused, we're here to win a hockey game.' The one guy I was kinda concerned about was Naz," said Colorado coach Jared Bednar, who praised Kadri's focus and discipline. "It's not about ego. It's not about settling scores. It's about winning the hockey game. That's what makes the biggest statement. No one wants it more than Naz."
Kadri completed the hat trick at 9:38 of the third period, beating Husso and extending the Colorado lead back to two goals after the Blues had cut it to 4-3. Kadri later assisted on Mikko Rantanen's empty-netter for a four-point night to set up Game 5 back in Denver, a potential elimination game for the Blues.
"I wanted to come out and put a mark on this game, especially with everything that happened. To do it on the road, it was pure," Kadri said.
On Sunday, hockey player Akim Aliu tweeted that he had spoken to Kadri and that the Avalanche center "has been subject to so many racist attacks and threats since last night that police had to be brought in."
Aliu and Kadri are founding members of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, an organization of current and former hockey players of color that is seeking to eradicate racism from the game. Kadri is a Muslim of Lebanese descent.
Kadri described the messages he received as "racial, threatening" when asked to define them.
"I wasn't that involved until the police were involved," Kadri said Monday night. "I guess some people contacted them about some hateful messages. I was able to read those messages. They were very extreme. I just tried to shake it off. [The police] did a good job assuring me and making me feel safe."
Kadri said he heard no racial taunts from the crowd on Monday, and he explained throughout his postgame interviews that he didn't want to paint the Blues fan base with a broad brush.
"What was said wasn't a reflection of every single fan in St. Louis. I want to make that clear," Kadri explained. "But for those who waste their time sending messages like that, I feel sorry for them."
Johnson couldn't help but be impressed by his teammate's effort and resiliency.
"I felt so good for him. Imagine being in his situation? No human being should have to receive that type of treatment, especially with a hockey game. It's just insane," Johnson said. "That being said, I think he liked being the villain tonight.
"Naz knew that we were with him and the organization is with him. You're not going to be fueled to win a game because of that. We have enough fuel. That being said, it definitely helped motivate Naz a little bit. How could you script it any better for him?"