‘He’s a huge X factor:’ Valeri Nichushkin is peaking at just the right time for the Avalanche

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The Colorado Avalanche stars dominated headlines before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Valeri Nichushkin was dominant on the ice.

To the uninitiated, Nichushkin’s terrific all-around performance in Colorado’s 4-3 overtime victory in Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning — including a goal and a key assist on Andre Burakovsky’s game-winner — might have been surprising. He’s easily the least heralded top-line skater in this series, hidden in the shadow of Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog.

Not anymore. Consider Wednesday’s game a coming-out party for Nichushkin, who has many fans in the Avs dressing room, and whose value continues to climb.

“He’s a huge X factor,” coach Jared Bednar said of Nichushkin after Game 1. “He’s had an incredible season so far. He’s been a difference-maker almost every night for us. His ability to check, and check pucks back to keep us playing offense, you saw it on display tonight. He had some real good scoring chances for himself, and obviously a big play at the net to set up [Burakovsky]. He’s been playing [well] with MacKinnon and Landeskog on that line.”

Colorado knew its depth would be tested when Nazem Kadri was sidelined indefinitely by a broken thumb suffered in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals against the Edmonton Oilers. The Avalanche vowed they’d fill Kadri’s void by committee. Nichushkin’s been that committee’s chair.

After Kadri’s exit, Nichushkin was elevated to Colorado’s top line and scored twice in the Avalanche’s come-from-behind victory in that contest. He’s been primarily in that lineup spot ever since, to increasingly strong returns.

Read more: ESPN