When you’ve played less than two full seasons like the Seattle Kraken, it’s easy to make history. But it’s exceedingly difficult to go on the road and defeat the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche in your first ever playoff game.
Thanks to the superlative goaltending of former Avalanche Philipp Grubauer, who turned aside 34 of 35 shots and Alex Wennberg’s goal and assist, the Kraken shocked the Avalanche, 3-1, last night at Ball Arena. Seattle takes a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven opening round series. While newer fans just heard about how unpredictable the Stanley Cup playoffs can be, the Kraken were the sixth lower seeded team, in the eight different series, to win the opening game.
“We wanted to start well,” said Kraken coach Dave Hakstol, who never gets too high after a victory or too low after a defeat. “You don’t want to come into this building against a caliber team and have to chase the game. We started each period well and having the lead was an important piece of this hockey game.”
The last time Grubauer competed in a playoff game in Ball Arena, he was a member of the Avalanche, who were eliminated in the first round by the Vegas Golden Knights in 2020-21. The following summer he signed with the Kraken as a free-agent and still ranks as the highest paid player on the team.
“It’s a weird feeling, but it’s familiar too,” said Grubauer, about appearing in the playoffs against the Avalanche. “I played with a lot of these guys. There’s nothing better than playing against your old team in the playoffs.”
Eeli Tolvanen goes into the record books as the first Kraken in history to score a playoff goal, thanks to the Kraken’s diligent forechecking. Tolvanen, who scored 16 goals in the regular season, intercepted Devon Toews clearing pass from behind the net and beat Avs’ goalie Alexander Georgiev.
The Avalanche tied the game at 12:35 of the first. Nathan McKinnon showed why he’s one of the elite forwards in the NHL, threading a pass through several players, hitting Mikko Rantanen to the right of the net. Rantanen, who tallied 55 goals in the regular season, tucked the puck into the short side of the net.
The Kraken took the lead on their first shot of the second period. Jaden Schwartz crossed a pass over to Alex Wennberg, who wristed a shot into the net.
“It was a great play by Schwartz,” said Wennberg. “We moved the puck up the ice and in the playoffs you have to take advantage of your opportunities. I shot and was rewarded.”
The latter stages of the second period belonged to the Avalanche offense and Grubauer. With the Avs buzzing in the Kraken defensive zone, their best chances came from J.T. Compter, whose shot went off Grubauer’s left shoulder and then Grubauer made a big save on Rantanen directly in front of the net before the end of the period.
“They got their opportunities. They got their looks, they had their push,” said Hakstol. “Grubi was good in a couple of instances 5-on-5 when they did have a push. He was good on the two PK’s [penalty kills] in the second period.”
Obviously, whichever team scored the next goal was crucial. Starting the third period, the Kraken withstood some early pressure and then the line of Wennberg, Schwartz and Morgan Geekie struck again. From behind his own net, Wennberg fed Geekie in front, who fired home from the slot. All three Kraken goals came off direct shots by Seattle forwards. Georgiev couldn’t blame any screens or deflections on the Kraken goals.
Georgiev was pulled with 4:50 remaining but had to return when Seattle went on the power play thanks to a hooking penalty against Colorado’s Arturi Lehkonen in his own offensive zone. The Kraken didn’t score, but in the game’s waning moments, Avalanche fans started heading to the exits.
According to Natural Stat Trick, the Avs had 11 Grade-A shots and should have 3.5 goals in the game. McKinnon, their top scorer hit the post a couple of times, including once in the final seconds. McKinnon and Rantanen, who both scored over 100 points, could only muster two points while the Wennberg-Schwartz-Geekie line had five points.
“We focus on them (McKinnon and Rantanen) obviously, but it comes down to playing our game,” said Wennberg. “We talked about moving our feet. Getting the puck out of our zone. We executed well.”
“I’m proud of the guys, we played the full 60 minutes,” said Grubauer. “You can’t have any passengers in the playoffs. It’s a big win for our organization, but it’s only game one.”
The Avalanche will be looking to even the series tomorrow night (Thursday) before the team’s head back to Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena – and what’s sure to be a loud, raucous crowd- for game three on Saturday and game four on Monday.
- Maybe the Kraken just have Colorado’s `number’ this season. Seattle’s defeated the defending champs three times this season in Colorado- along with an overtime loss in Seattle. The last time the Kraken played at Colorado, Avalanche netminder Alexander Georgiev held the Kraken scoreless for 57 second minutes. Brandon Tanev scored off a turnover and Yanni Gourde tallied the game winner in overtime. While they didn’t score any points last night, Gourde and Tanev, the Kraken’s two best defensive forwards, were on the ice in the game’s final minutes.
- When Colorado defeated Nashville in the season finale to clinch first place in the Central Division, Avalanche forward Logan O’Connor said in a between periods TV interview that Colorado’s goal was to get home advantage in the first two series (maybe getting a little ahead of himself there) because of Denver’s high altitude. Seattle coach Dave Hakstol wasn’t too concerned with the altitude as the Kraken didn’t leave for Colorado until Monday afternoon. Maybe Hakstol knew something, the Kraken hardly looked like they were out of gas in the final period.
- During the regular season, the Kraken power play converted on 20-percent of opportunities (19th in the NHL), and the penalty kill ranked 21st overall (76.7%) The Kraken have successfully killed penalties in seven of their last nine games.
- Last night’s Kraken win ended a Colorado winning streak. The Avs had a near-perfect 6-0-1 month of April to climb over Dallas and Minnesota for first place in the Central Division. In their last 10 regular games, the Avs were 8-1-1.
S- Eeli Tolvanen (unassisted) 3:26. C- Mikko Rantanen (Nathan McKinnon, Bowen Byram) 12:35.
S- Alex Wennberg (Jaden Schwartz, Jamie Oleksiak) 1:20.
S- Morgan Geekie (Wennberg, Schwartz) 4:03.
Shots on Goal- Seattle 30, Colorado 35
Penalty Minutes- Seattle 4, Colorado 6.
Referees- Steve Kozari, Chris Lee. Linesmen- Michel Comier, Devin Berg. Standby Official- Dan O’Rourke.
Three Stars- 1. Alex Wennberg 2. Philipp Grubauer. 3. Eeli Tolvanen.