Tampa, Florida – “Day by day.”
They are the words that no player wants to get hung up on their condition when there are only days left in the season.
This is where Nazim Qadri finds himself now, sensationally close to the Stanley Cup Final but still on the outside looking inward. He’s in a race against time with the Colorado Avalanche who led the Tampa Bay Lightning game 2 to one and Match 4 on the go at Amalie Arena on Wednesday.
My destiny had it removed a little over two weeks ago with surgery to his right thumb, as a result of a serious collision with the plates at high speed after an injury that halted Evander Kane for one game during the Western Conference Final.
This is a particularly difficult disease for the left midfield to deal with as it affects the control hand on his stick. It makes taking the standoff and dealing with the puck difficult. It makes shooting him with any force nearly impossible.
Watching Kadri make his way through a self-guided optional skate on a Tuesday afternoon was seeing someone test themselves through tough conditions. He has not spoken to reporters since his injury, but it is clear that he is preparing to play at least another match before the summer.
There appears to be a slight drag break on the horizon – “I think it is. Avalanche coach Jared Bednar, said when asked if Kadri is progressing towards a comeback – but the timeline is unclear.
“He seems to be getting better every day,” Bednar said. “I think it’s an option for us at some point here. I’m not sure when.”
It will eventually end up calculating the risk/reward of the avalanche: Can a player with a price of less than 100 percent help the cause? How sure are they that Kadri won’t hurt their thumb by playing in danger?
This couldn’t have been an easy time for the 31-year-old veteran who appeared in 788 NHL games, but none anywhere close to the games he’s lost.
Qadri shows no apparent signs of frustration. He said a quick hello as he passed reporters on the morning of Game Three and sounded reasonably upbeat during his 30-minute session on Tuesday afternoon.
There was a method behind everything he did on the ice, from stick handling to shooting to tipping point shots to engaging a teammate in a stick fight to practicing taking a clean-edged disc out of a wall. More than once he pressed his stick firmly against the glass as if preparing to make contact.
He leaned into some shots too, but didn’t put the kind of zip on them that you’d expect to see from a former 30-goal goalscorer. Once he raised a puck disc high in the air and was able to grab it with the blade of a stick.
It wasn’t perfect but it was more promising than any previous session since the surgery.
“Every day he’s doing a little extra work and getting better,” said teammate Eric Johnson. “I expect it to be a sure possibility in the next two matches.”
This cup final is a testament to the attrition that each team suffers while playing in a series of better than seven in a row. Brayden Point is currently unavailable to Lightning and Nikita Kucherov was unable to complete Game 3 after being collapsed by Devon Toews in the third period. He is expected to return to Game 4 but is dealing with a knee problem. Avalanche lost Samuel Gerrard earlier in the playoffs with a broken sternum and Andrei Burakowski was injured while using his hand to block a pass during Game 2 against Tampa Bay.
And then there’s Kadri, who was a key part of the Colorado in the post-season before falling out of the squad.
He’s having a huge summer as an unrestricted free agent, but he still manages to take advantage of the opportunity. When you’ve gone 12 years in the league without having previously played after the second round, this is an easy thing to do.
Just playing one game in the Stanley Cup Final would be an achievement.
Remember, Kadri’s elimination history includes being a young member of the Maple Leafs who blew a 4-1 lead in Game 7 against Boston in 2013, as well as three separate suspensions that led to his disqualification from elimination matches.
He might never get a chance as good as this to bury that past completely and experience the ultimate glory.
“We are not afraid of the spotlight, moment. We are not afraid of failure. I am not afraid of failure,” Kadri wrote in a Players Tribune article last month. “And that, right there, is who I am. So I will give everything I have.”
All he has to do is get back into the squad.
The days are short, but he is getting closer.
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