Kadri’s leadership shines as Flames end losing skid

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Nazem Kadri set the tone.

First, with a goal.

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Soon after, with an assist.

And then with a hellacious hit, right in front of the home bench at the Saddledome.

His Calgary Flames teammates, the vets and the rookies, the old and the young, the established and the still-working-on-that-part, took notice.

And they followed, delivering one of their most complete outings of the season in Saturday’s 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings.

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“(Kadri) was dominant in that first period,” praised Flames rearguard MacKenzie Weegar. “Obviously, he gets that goal on the power-play, then sets somebody up on the other goal. And then the hit, I thought that was pretty big for us as well, setting the tone physically. Because I thought after that, everybody got pretty engaged on both sides of the ice. A lot of guys woke up.”

This hasn’t exactly been a sweet-dreams season for the Flames.

While not yet mathematically eliminated, their playoff hopes are shot.

You never would have known it from watching Kadri during Saturday’s triumph over the Kings, which he described afterward as “probably one of our best games of the season, start to finish.”

The 33-year-old centre opened the scoring with a man-advantage marker, cranking a one-timer after a crafty feed from Andrei Kuzmenko.

Two shifts later, he won a puck battle near the offensive blue-line, spun away from a check and started a sequence that ended with Martin Pospisil’s even-strength snipe.

And then he levelled Kings defenceman Mikey Anderson, and in a prime location too.

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“That’s the best,” Weegar beamed, asked about the reaction when there’s a wicked wallop in front of the bench. “That guy hears it, for sure.”

On what was a special night, with Kadri describing the atmosphere for the Flames’ inaugural South Asian Celebration Game as “electric right from the anthem,” No. 91 also rang a backhander off the crossbar and won a faceoff that resulted in Calgary’s third power-play goal of the evening, with Weegar lighting that lamp.

“When you have guys that winning is something that drives them or they hate losing more than they like to win, it’s infectious,” said Flames head coach Ryan Huska. “I think with Naz continuing to play the way he has played for the majority of the year, I think it sends a real strong message to everybody. He’s played on Stanley Cup champion teams. Blake (Coleman) has played on them. So they have a really good handle on what it takes to win.”

No let-up despite Flames’ position in standings

There have been questions about whether Kadri, who inked a seven-year contract in Calgary after his title run with the Colorado Avalanche in 2022, will want to stick around through a retool.

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On this night, against an opponent that is known for a heavy, hard brand, he certainly was fully engaged, wasn’t easing off the gas any.

Just ask Anderson, who had just thwarted a clearing attempt when he was bulldozed by the most experienced dude in a home lineup that featured four rookies.

“Me personally, I don’t care if we’re (out of a playoff spot) …” Kadri started, before catching himself. “I mean, obviously I do care, but it’s not going to change the way I play. I’m going to approach every game the same way. We’re coming off a bit of a losing skid and we made an emphasis to start well. I just felt like I tried to lead the way as best as possible.”

He did just that — leading by example.

And he wasn’t alone.

Rasmus Andersson, after a gutsy shot-block, couldn’t put any weight on his left foot as the Kings potted a power-play goal in the late stages of the middle frame. But guess who was trying to play goaltender again in the third, kneeling to fill the lane as Pierre-Luc Dubois fired?

Weegar finished the evening with seven blocks, a big reason that the Kings mustered only 18 shots on Jacob Markstrom.

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Coleman, who spent so much time in the opposing crease that his blades might be stained blue, scored the game-winner as the Flames snapped out of a five-game funk.

“We all know what situation we’re in — it’s going to take a miracle to get in the playoffs,” Andersson said during his post-game media scrum. “But we still show up on a night like tonight and we block shots, we hit, we play a physical game, we’re all over a really good team for 60 minutes. It was one of those nights when you look around and you’re proud to be on this team.”

Echoed Weegar: “That’s what it takes to win in this league. Sometimes it hurts.”

Kadri has won — the big prize, that is.

On Saturday, for a team that is supposed to be playing out the string, already focused on next season or maybe the one beyond that, he set the tone. There’s a reason he has been wearing an ‘A’ on his sweater, and his leadership — in all forms — was on display in a first-star performance against the Kings.

“He was one of our best players, I thought,” Huska said. “When Naz is at his best, he drags people into the fight with him.”

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