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Colorado Avalanche fans hold up signs in support of center Nazem Kadri before Game 5 against the St. Louis Blues at Ball Arena in Denver on May 25.Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

The Colorado Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon is the current headliner of the nastiest series in these NHL playoffs.

His hat trick on Wednesday – including a coast-to-coast goal that started out in the parking lot and went through all five St. Louis Blues skaters – got the headlines.

Not so well advertised: that St. Louis came back to win it in overtime. Colorado leads 3-2 headed back to St. Louis.

Every good series has its themes. For this one, the theme is stories. Whoever has the better one is the likely winner.

Regardless of how it turns out, the protagonist of the piece is Colorado’s Nazem Kadri.

Until this postseason, Kadri was best known as the guy the Maple Leafs gave up on when they probably shouldn’t have. Before he was traded, everyone knew he brought a sharp edge to the Toronto lineup. It was only after he’d left they realized that without him the Leafs would turn into an orb.

Everyone wants to win hockey games, but few players want to win shifts the way Kadri does. If he can’t score on you, he’ll do whatever else he has to to leave an impression. Often, that impression is more like a dent.

In Game 3, Kadri barrel-rolled St. Louis goalie Jordan Binnington on a bull rush to the net. It was a 50-50 collision in that there was a loose puck in play and Kadri was tangled up with a Blues defender at speed when it happened. But because it was Kadri, the presumption was he’d planned it to look that way.

Binnington went off injured and did not come back. As the goalie left after the game, he passed Kadri, who was doing a live TV interview. Binnington chucked the closest thing he could find in his direction.

Kadri looked over while on air and said, “Not sure if he just threw a water bottle at me or not.” Then he laughed.

At that point, you’d have said Kadri had done it again, only he’d got away with it this time. Nobody likes to talk about this kind of dark art any more, but it is still a prized skill in the NHL. Ask Jacob Trouba or Sidney Crosby.

Now we had our story – Kadri was the villain and the Blues were the suddenly plucky underdog. It was so obvious who was coming out of this looking like the bad guy that the Blues didn’t have to bother getting upset about it.

“Look at Kadri’s reputation,” St. Louis coach Craig Berube shrugged afterward. “That’s all I got to say.”

But then, thanks to the miracle of the Internet, society’s knuckle-draggers showed up to offer their brief in support of the Blues’ case.

The online abuse sent Kadri’s way was extreme enough to prompt the NHL to request increased security around Colorado’s hotel in St. Louis and at the rink.

At that point, Berube and the Blues must have still thought they understood the story – Kadri was the aggressor and they were the aggrieved party. This was a hockey series and they were going to talk about hockey tropes.

Asked about the threats, Berube said, “I got no comment on any of that stuff.”

That’s a hockey answer. Unfortunately for Berube, it’s a hockey answer to what was quickly becoming an urgent cultural question. That combo doesn’t work any more, though hockey keeps trying.

Kadri went out the next game and scored three goals and the Avalanche romped.

Afterward, Kadri’s wife posted a selection of the racially abusive messages she and her husband had received on Instagram. Kadri is a Muslim of Lebanese extraction. The Hockey Diversity Alliance jumped on Berube with both feet.

Whether the worst people on social media actually represent the St. Louis Blues was no longer the issue. That it had begun to seem that way was.

Give Berube credit – some of the NHL’s old soldiers would have turtled. Instead, he pivoted. Ahead of Game 5, unprompted, he circled back to his ‘no comment’.

“Being a Native American myself, I’ve heard it all. I’ve been around it. It’s not a good thing and, so, I just wanted to get it out there that, you know, there’s no room for it anywhere,” Berube said.

It wasn’t what he said that made an impression so much as the way he said it. Berube looked and sounded like a man who never cries teetering on the edge of an emotional dam break. His comments were made more poignant by their awkwardness.

That shifted the balance again. Now it wasn’t the St. Louis Blues and some of the stupidest people on Earth vs. Kadri and the Avalanche. The stupid people were out there on their own and hockey had all moved over to the other side of the equation.

The story was back on a sports footing. So despite MacKinnon’s artistry, the housepainters in the Blues’ lineup got the job done in Game 5.

So whose story is it now?

If the Avalanche win this series, it was because they came together after an attack on one of their own. Ahead of a possible Connor McDavid-MacKinnon showdown, Kadri will be the most talked-about player. He may not be the silkiest performer in the NHL, but in a sea of grey men, he has two supreme skills – he changes games and he makes news.

If the Blues win, it’s because they are the Comeback Kids 2.0. We’ll hear a lot more about the 2019 St. Louis team that went from last place to last man standing. Though it’s been lost in the noise, they will be the ones who overcame an ambush on their best player.

Going forward, the star of their show would now be Berube, the hockey lifer who had his struck-blind-on-the-road-to-Damascus moment just when his team needed a promotional boost.

They’re both good stories. The team that believes its version of events is more compelling is probably the one who wins.