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Big Z Nikita Zadorov playing real tough for the Colorado Avalanche
6 2017 .  The Denver Post.

Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov has delivered a team-high 129 hits, leads the active roster with three fighting majors and continues to play like his team has a chance to make the postseason. If nothing else, the 21-year-old Russian is giving Colorado fans reason to hope for a return to the playoffs next season and beyond.

Zadorov, despite serving seven minutes of penalties in the third period Saturday, logged more than 25 minutes of playing time in a 5-2 victory over Winnipeg that ended the Avs nine-game losing streak. Zadorov, 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, made three big hits in the game, the last on prized young forward Mark Scheifele that sparked a mini-brawl with 10:18 remaining. Zadorov, nicknamed Big Z, stepped up on Scheifele in the neutral zone and dramatically sent the Jet to the ice in helicopter-spinning fashion. Scheifele was stunned, but not injured.

Zadorov received a charging minor for the hit, but he didnt leave his feet before contact and he kept his elbow low and in. At that point, the Jets and perhaps the referees had had enough of Zadorov, who was jumped sandwich style by Jacob Trouba and Patrik Laine. Trouba and Zadorov received fighting majors even though Zadorov didnt throw a punch.

After a day off, the Avalanche practiced Monday and Zadorov talked about his wild ending against the Jets. He knows more attacks will occur if he continues to deliver jarring hits to players in vulnerable positions. Next time, though, he wont turtle on the ice. He will defend himself.

I knew something would happen, but I didnt know Trouba was so close. He jumped me and I slipped I fell down, Zadorov said. When you fall in a fight, its fight lost, so its better to protect myself there. If someone wants to challenge me, I can fight him. I have no problem with that. Ive never been backing out (of fights).

Players such as Zadorov must evaluate the risk versus reward with open-ice hits. If done legally, they can spark your team and intimidate the opposition. But if done incorrectly, they can lead to a severe penalty or suspension, or an odd-man rush against.

In the neutral zone, its pretty tough. You have to get a good gap, a good angle on him and then wait to see if he comes to the middle or goes to the boards, Zadorov said. That one, I saw him put his head down. Its very rare. Not too many chances during the game when you can step up (on a 2-on-2 rush). If I miss him its a 2-on-1 against us. Good thing I didnt miss.

Avs coach Jared Bednar said he thought Zadorovs hit  was a clean check but one that usually promotes a physical response from the other team. If anything, Zadorov broke the players code by not giving Trouba a fight. Perhaps thats why he was given the fighting major because he turtled.

Im surprised it was even, that we didnt get a power play after that, Zadorov said. I cant talk about that, the rules, but you guys saw that. I never dropped my gloves.

Ideally, Zadorov would like to be known as a franchise defenseman willing to do anything to help his team like Shea Weber of the Montreal Canadiens, who visit the Pepsi Center on Tuesday night.

I want to be physical against top forwards, because theyre not going to want to play against you, Zadorov said. Like Shea Weber, hes going to be tough against our top guys. Hes going to be on Dutchy (Matt Duchene), (Nathan) MacKinnon, Landy (Gabe Landeskog) and Mikko (Rantanen). Hes not going to give them a break. Hes going to pin them, cross check them, stay hard on the stick and everything. Best defensemen have to do that, especially my size. When you never back down, thats the power of the good defenseman.

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