Before the start of last night’s Game 7 between the Seattle Kraken and the Colorado Avalanche, Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said once again that the Kraken weren’t a fluke- “we belong here.”
Then his team went out and proved it.
Behind the goaltending of Philipp Grubauer (the series MVP although MVP awards aren’t officially given out in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs) and two goals from Oliver Bjorkstrand, the Kraken defeated the Colorado Avalanche, and stunned a sellout crowd at Denver’s Ball Arena, with a 2-1 victory. Seattle continues its Cinderella season against the Dallas Stars in a Western Conference semi-final series beginning Tuesday night in Dallas. The Kraken were 1-1-1 against the Stars in the regular season.
It’s been a storybook playoff series for the Kraken setting new records- they scored the opening goal in the first-ever seven playoff games- and became the first-ever team to eliminate the defending Stanley Cup champs in their first ever playoff series.
“It was an even series,” said Hakstol. “You look at the first six games the team that played a little bit better won the game. Tonight both teams played hard, but our goaltender was the best player on the ice. A couple of other guys stepped up, just like in the regular season.”
“Within the group, we believe in ourselves,” said Bjorkstrand, who also scored a playoff clinching goal for the Columbus Blue Jackets in the opening round of the 2019 playoffs. “It’s been like that all series. We came here to win and we did the job .”
The Avalanche played their best game of the series, Friday night in Seattle, and picked up where they left off in last night’s opening period. Colorado outshot their guests 16-6 in the first period. With nine minutes remaining in the first, Grubauer made two big saves off Avs’ Calder Trophy winning defenseman Cale Makar and then stopped Nathan McKinnon (seven shots in the game) point blank.
However, once again the Kraken scored the opening goal. After taking a pass from Yanni Gourde down in the left corner, the Avs defense peeled off Bjorkstrand and he tried to hit Brandon Tanev cutting to the net. Two Colorado defenders converged on Tanev. One was Alex Newhook. The puck hit his stick as he checked Tanev to the ice. Then the puck hit Ben Meyers’ glove and went into the net. With goals like that you couldn’t help but wonder if the Kraken’s were destined to win the series.
A little over three minutes later, the Kraken struck again. Gourde gained control of the puck in his defensive zone (after a Grubauer stick save) and sent a lead pass to Eeli Tolvanen along the boards. Tolvanen won a one-on-battle with Colorado’s Devon Toews tapping the puck ahead to Bjorkstrand on a breakaway. Bjorkstrand, who had a relatively quiet series before last night, wristed a low shot that beat Avs’ goalkeeper Alexander Georgiev.
Those were Bjorkstrand’s first two goals of the series. He became the 15th Kraken player to find the back of the net in the series, and could have a couple more goals hitting the post twice.
Late in the period, Vince Dunn got tangled up with a Colorado forward and drew the only penalty of the game. The Kraken had killed 16 of the last 17 penalties prior to that Colorado power play,, but the Avs had plenty of fight left. McKinnon, who now has over 100 playoff points in his career, fired a shot from the slot that grazed the uniform of teammate Miko Rantanen parked in front of the net. Rantanen finishes the playoffs with a team-high seven goals (that was probably the easiest, he hit the post minutes earlier) and McKinnon, Rantanen and Arturi Lehkonen scored 13 of the Avs’ 19 goals in the series.
Another sign that maybe this wasn’t Colorado’s night came with 17:53 left in the game. McKinnon fired home what appeared to be the game-tying goal. But for the second consecutive game, the Kraken asked for a video review, claiming that the Avs were offside. And for the second consecutive game, the officials quickly reviewed the play and ruled that the goal didn’t count. The eagle eyes of Seattle’s video coaches Tim Ohashi and Brady Morgan spotted Rantanen sliding into the zone a half step before McKinnon.
The game’s closing minutes were mano o mano. For the final 2:55, the Avs’ top line of McKinnon, Rantanen and Lehkonen were on the ice (along with Makar) against Gourde-Bjorkstrand-Telvanon, the line that matched up against them all series long with the sizeable presence of Adam Larsson and Jamie Olesiak at the blue line. The Avs were unable to get off any Grade A scoring chances as the clock wound down.
“It’s incredible,” said Grubauer, who left the Avs to sign with Seattle in 2021, shortly after the expansion draft. “It means a lot to the team and the organization. People had written us off and here we are. We’ve shown all year we can play with the best teams and beat the best teams.
“Personally it means a lot,” admitted Grubauer, who missed much of the latter stages of 2022 with an injury he suffered in Colorado. “Beating the defending Stanley Cup champions. Guys made it easy for me, blocking a helluva lot of chances.”
The Kraken blocked 29 shots in the game, Defensemen Oleksiak and Will Borgen led the way with four blocks each and Larsson had three. But the forwards were active as well with Bjorkstrand and Jaden Schwartz having three blocks and Alex Wennberg, two. A total of 15 Kraken players had blocked shots in the game.
Between the pipes, the Kraken won their second game of the series (along with Game 1 in Colorado) where they were outshot by a wide margin. Grubauer had a .94 save percentage in last night’s game. In the series, his save percentage is close to .930. In two regular seasons with the Kraken, Grubauer’s percentage has been below the .900 mark.
“I think they are about as highly competitive as any team we played,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “They are deep and every line is the same.”
The Kraken will fly directly to Dallas for game one tomorrow night. While all playoff dates haven’t been finalized, it looks like another fun weekend upcoming for hockey fans at Climate Pledge Arena.
- Colorado’s Andrew Cogliano suffered a fractured neck from a hit from behind by Jordan Eberle in Game 6, Friday night. There was no further disciplinary action against Eberle, who’s considered one of the more `gentlemanly’ players in the league who draws very few penalties. Eberle was fortunate to receive only a two-minute penalty on the play, though Kraken fans would note that’s consistent with Cale Makar getting only two minutes for his late hit in Game 4 on Jared McCann, that knocked Seattle’s leading goal scorer out of the series. Ironically, Eberle and Cogliano broke in with the Edmonton Oilers together back in the 2011-2012 season. Eberle said you never want to hurt another player on the ice, especially someone you know.
- The Avs were missing forward Darren Helm and defenseman Josh Manson with injuries and Valeri Nushichkin (for personal reasons) in the war of attrition that sometimes marks the Stanley Cup playoffs. Colorado, who had already lost three of their top six scorers off the Stanley Cup winners, plus their starting goalkeeper, before the season, were without their captain Gabrie Landeskoog, out all year with major knee surgery. The Kraken haven’t had the plethora of injuries that some teams have had this season, but have been missing two of their best offensive players – McCann and Andre Burakovsky, one of those top Colorado scorers from last season, who signed with the Kraken in the off-season. Burakovsky hasn’t played since Feb. 8 and is done for the season having lower body surgery before the playoffs.
- With the injury to Cogliano, Eberle became public enemy number-one in Denver. Av fans weren’t quite as vociferous in their booing (as Kraken fans with Makar). Truth be told, neither one of them quite fits the villain role.
- Tye Kartye, who scored his first NHL goal on his first NHL shot on Wednesday night, celebrated his 22nd birthday yesterday.
- In a classy gesture, the Colorado Avalanche wished the Kraken `best of luck’ for the remainder of the playoffs on their official web site.
S- Oliver Bjorkstrand (Yanni Gourde, Adam Larsson) 3:24. S- Bjorkstrand (Eeli Tolvanen, Gourde) 7:32. C- Nathan McKinnon (Devon Toews, Artturi Lehkonen) PPG, 19:32.
Shots on Goal- Seattle 27, Colorado 34.
Penalty Minutes- Seattle 2, Colorado.0.
Referees- Chris Rooney, Graham Skilliter. Linemsen- Michel Cormier, Devin Berg. Standby Officials- Tom Chmielewski, Brandon Gawryletz.
Three Stars- 1. Oliver Bjorkstrand S, 2. Philipp Grubauer S, 3. Nathan McKinnon, C.