Kiszla: With broken right thumb, Avs’ Nazem Kadri drives stake through heart of defending NHL champion

TAMPA, Fla. — When the story of this NHL championship is told, the first and last words will be the same: Nazem Kadri. After the Avalanche hoist the Stanley Cup, the most rousing toast should honor a player who overcame his own demons to deliver hockey’s holy grail to Colorado.

“Oh, man. rollercoaster of emotions, thinking I was done and then having a sliver of hope … Sitting here right now is surreal,” Kadri said late Wednesday after coming off the injured list to drive a stake through the heart of Tampa Bay with a broken thumb.

During his first appearance in a game since June 4, Kadri broke the spirit of the Lightning, delivering the shot that beat Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to deliver Colorado a 3-2 overtime victory, and hand the Avs a chance to claim the franchise’s first championship since 2001.

Along the wicked, twisted road to the Cup, Kadri received death threats in St. Louis and got blindsided by a dirty shot in Edmonton. None of it stopped him. All of it made him stronger.

“When you need him, he delivers,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said.

In the sweet agony of overtime, every ping of a post or the crossbar by the Avalanche made hearts skip a beat. I swear a hot shot by defenseman Bo Byram nearly seared the goal frame in two, only to prolong the angst.

When it was over, Tampa Bay…

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