To the shock of the hockey world, the Seattle Kraken took a 2-0 lead in the first period of their first-round playoff battle with the Colorado Avalanche. After the Kraken in their first ever playoff game, took a 1-0 lead in the series, most observers expected the Avalanche, in the words of ESPN hockey analyst Brian Boucher, “to come out with their hair on fire.”
That wasn’t the case, but the Avalanche team that won the Stanley Cup a year ago, finally did show up in the second and third periods to post a 3-2 victory last night at the Ball Arena in Denver. The Kraken won game one, 3-1. The series resumes with Game 3, tomorrow night (Saturday) at Climate Pledge Arena.
Phillip Grubauer was once again a standout in the nets for the Kraken with 38 saves against his former team. But defenseman Devon Toews pounced on a rebound by teammate Arturri Lehkonen at 12:59 of the third period to give the Avalanche the victory to the relief of the home crowd. There were even a few boos for the Avs as they left the ice in the first period.
The Kraken had a 5-1 shot advantage in the early going and took a 1-0 lead in the contest. Eeli Tolvanen, who scored the first ever Kraken playoff goal in game one, came down the right-wing boards and centered a pass to the `pinching in’ defenseman Justin Schultz, who wristed a shot home.
While the Kraken could muster only one shot on their power play, Seattle struck for a short-handed goal late in the first period. Gourde went into the right corner and won a battle with the bigger Cale Makar and hit Brandon Tanev flying down the center. Tanev slapped home a shot from the slot and went sliding into the boards. Chances are the Avs fans were giving Tanev some flak so `Turbo’ responded by planting a kiss on the boards.
“Jared [McCann] did a great job getting the puck up the ice and everything goes to Yanni from there,” said Tanev. “(Gourde) worked his butt off to get that puck out in the slot. I was fortunate to have some time and space to get a shot off.”
Gourde, who played on two Stanley Cup championship teams with the Tampa Bay Lightning, was the best player on the ice in the first period (he assisted on both goals). Gourde almost made it 3-0 when he came in on a breakaway in the closing seconds of the first period but Colorado goalie, Alexander Georgiev made the kick save.
We’re obviously happy with the first period,” said Seattle coach Dave Hakstol “We knew they were gonna have a push and they did in the second period. The first 10 minutes they were on the gas and had some real good opportunities to tie the game up. We evened it out (late in the period).”
Colorado coach Jarred Bodnar said his team `just needed to relax.’ Avs’ forward Evan Rodrigues said in post-game interviews that some of the veteran players talked to the team in the locker room between periods. Whatever the reason and with their backs against the wall, the Avalanche controlled the second period.
After being stopped on 47 of 48 shots on goal, the Avalanche would beat Grubauer twice in 48 seconds. Makar, probably the league’s best offensive defenseman drove a short from the point that was redirected by Lehkonen. Then Toews cleared the puck out of his zone ahead to Rodrigues who centered to Valerie Nichuskin who drove the puck home.
“We expected them to push back,” said Gourde. “They’re a great team that’s been in this position before. We need to manage the game a little better. We needed to slow things down a little bit. When we get back to our roots we’re a pretty successful team.”
Late in the period, Georgiev made his best save of the playoffs. McCann hit Jordan Eberle with a stretch pass and Georgiev slid to his right and batted the puck away with his stick. The Kraken’s top scoring line of McCann, Eberle and Matty Beniers didn’t record a point in the first two playoff games.
Grubauer also made what was then a possible `game saving’ stop early in the third period with a little help from Schultz. Nathan McKinnon, the Avs’ leading scorer came in on a partial breakaway but Schultz, coming from behind, got his stick in front of McKinnon and Grubauer made the kick save.
“I like the way we started the third period,” said Hakstol. “They had a three- to four-minute push right before they scored the game-winner. To that point, I liked where we were at, but we didn’t weather the storm and couldn’t turn the momentum quick enough.”
Realistically, an underdog team like the Kraken hope to win at least one of their first two playoff games on the road. Now they return to Climate Pledge tied 1-1 in front of what’s expected to be a loud, exuberant crowd.
“It’ll be great to have a playoff game in our building,” said Gourde. “Our first playoff game at home. That’s awesome. It’ll be pretty exciting.”
- Heading into last night’s game, Philipp Grubauer had a .942 save percentage in four games against the Avalanche. His save percentage was under .900 against the rest of the league. Last night marked the first regular loss for the Kraken against the Avs this season. Along with their game one victory, the Kraken were 2-0-1 against Colorado in the regular season.
- As an example of how the intensity ramps up in the playoffs, the Kraken, not known as an especially physical team, had 40 hits in each of the first two games. In fact, Seattle doled out 22 bodychecks in the first period of game one. In Tuesday night’s opener, defenseman Adam Larsson led the team with five hits, the same number Brandon Tanev accumulated last night. In both games, 14 Kraken players doled out at least one body check. The Avalanche aren’t known as a physical team either, but they handed out 50 hits last night.
- The winner of this series faces the winner of the Dallas Stars-Minnesota Wild series. That matchup is also tied at one game apiece with Game 3 tonight in Minnesota.
- The Kraken’s AHL affiliate the Coachella Valley Firebirds have also won their first-ever playoff game. The Firebirds defeated Tucson, 5-1, behind the goaltending of Joey Daccord who stopped 45 shots. First round game’s in the AHL playoffs are best-of-three. The Firebirds, who had the second-best record in the league, host the opening round games.
- In other Firebird news: forward Tye Kartye has won the Red Dudley Award presented to the AHL Rookie-of-the-Year. Kartye was the third leading scorer on Coachella Valley this season
S- Justin Schultz (Eeli Tolvanen, Yanni Gourde) 2:40. S- Brandon Tanev (Gourde) SH 13:27.
C- Artturi Lehkonen (Cale Makar, Bowen Byram) 6:42. C- Valeri Nichushkin (Evan Rodrigues, Devon Toews) 7:30.
C- Devon Toews (Lehkonen, Sam Girard) 12:59.
Shots on Goal- Seattle 29, Colorado 41.
Penalty Minutes- Seattle 8, Colorado 8.
Referees- Kelly Sutherland, Kendrick Nicholson. Linesmen- Steve Barton, James Tobias. Standby- Corey Syvret.
Three Stars- 1. Devon Toews. 2. Artturi Lehkonen 3. Valeri Nichushkin.