It was a fun ride while it lasted.
The Seattle Kraken’s Cinderella ride through the Stanley Cup playoffs ended last night with a 2-1 loss to the Dallas Stars in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals. Many hockey experts predicted at the beginning of the playoffs that the second-year Kraken making their first-ever appearance in post-season play, might be lucky to win one playoff game. As all of Seattle and the hockey world know, the Kraken’s stunned the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche with a seven-game victory and took the Dallas Stars to a seventh game last night at American Airlines Arena.
While their season ended, the Kraken still didn’t go down without a fight. With 18 seconds left in the game, Yanni Gourde won a battle in front of the net and passed back to Oliver Bjorkstrand in the slot. Bjorkstrand, who had two goals in the series finale against the Avalanche, fired a shot home as the Kraken finally beat Dallas netminder Jake Oettinger. But it was too little too late, as Jared McCann and Vince off shots in the final seconds that Oettinger- the game’s number-one star- turned aside. Maybe it was fitting that McCann, the team’s `number one star’ (as figured by three star selections in home games) and Dunn, voted the team’s Most Valuable Player, had the final two shots of the season.
“I had a feeling about this group really back to training camp,” said Seattle coach Dave Hakstol after the game. “There was a different feel to it. You knew there was something there. I had no idea exactly how or when we would come together as a group.”
One of the things that made last night’s game tough to predict was whether the good Oettinger or the bad Oettinger would show up in the Dallas net. He played well in game one (won by Seattle in overtime on Yanni Gourde’s goal) except for a stretch in the first period where he allowed three goals in a minute and a half. In game three, he surrendered four goals on four shots in the second period and didn’t play the third period. In Game 6 he was relieved by back-up Scott Wedgewood midway through the second period after four Kraken goals.
But last night the `good’ Oettinger arrived, (he had a .941 save percentage in the regular season but below .900 in this series) making 22 of 23 saves. Plus, the goal posts are always a goaltender’s best friend. With 4:55 remaining, Bjorkstrand hit the post.
Wyatt Johnston, celebrating is 20th birthday, had the game winner. Johnston, who tied the Kraken’s Matty Beniers in goals by a rookie in the regular season, hustled down the ice to pounce on a clear by Evgenii Dadanov and prevent icing. Johnston made a nifty move, cutting to the net and lifted a shot headed to the left corner that actually hit Kraken goalie Philipp Grubauer and landed in the net.
After a scoreless first period, the Stars finally broke the scoring ice at 15:59 of the second period. Kraken defenseman Jamie Oleksiak couldn’t control a bouncing puck at the blue line and Roope Hintz swept in, took the puck away and went in for a score. With the goal, Hintz ranks as the second leading scorer in the playoffs with 19 points, one behind Edmonton’s Connor McDavid (20) who was eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday night when the Vegas Golden Knights defeated McDavid’s Oilers in six games. It was a tough break for Oleksiak, a former Dallas Star, who leads everyone in the playoffs with blocked shots and is second in hits.
While the first period was scoreless, there was plenty of action. And while each team had nine shots, the Stars had the better of the scoring chances. Eeli Tolvanen picked up the only Kraken penalty in the game for cross-checking Jamie Benn who was about to put the puck into an open net off a scramble in front. On the ensuing penalty kill, the Kraken were huge. In the two minutes they were shorthanded, Seattle came up with five blocked shots. Brandon Tanev had two blocks and Adam Larsson, Alex Wennberg and Oleksiak also came up with blocks. Halfway through the first period, the Kraken already had nine blocks (13-2 in favor of the Kraken at the end of the period).
“I don’t think we came out as strong as we did in Game 6,” said Grubauer. “But we battled. I’m really proud of this group. The way we played the regular season and the playoffs. It’s a tough pill (the loss) to swallow. That’s for sure.”
Before the period ended, Grubauer came up with big saves on Tyler Seguin and Hintz on a breakaway. The Stars controlled the early stages of the second period and Grubauer made five stops that were statistically considered Grade A saves.
“That’s my job (to stop the puck),” said Grubauer. “Unfortunately, I couldn’t stop the second goal. We got a goal, but unfortunately time ran out.”
On offense, “we didn’t break out well,” said Gourde, a Kraken alternate captain. “Our transition wasn’t to our liking. We were a little slow. We were at our best in the playoffs when the puck was coming off our sticks quickly.”
Despite the disappointment in the Kraken locker room after the game, the players interviewed admitted they took great pride in how the team came together this season, the second in franchise history.
“What really stands out to me tonight, you look at the pain of the veteran guys in our room,” said Hakstol. “They have an understanding. When you’ve got guys that have won Cups and you’ve got guys that have been on playoff runs before, they understand how difficult it is not only to get into the playoffs but even to get to this point.”
- As the Kraken exit the playoffs, they had the most hits and most blocked shots of any team in the post-season. They were only 21st in blocked shots during the regular season. Dallas continually won more faceoffs than Seattle in the series, however the margin was fairly narrow last night, 27-23. Jaden Schwartz also won tow faceoffs late in the game from Luke Glendenning, one of the Stars best faceoff men.
- The Stars are now 8-1 in the post-season when they’ve scored the first goal in the game. Since relocating to Dallas in 1993 (the Stars were originally the Minnesota North Stars starting in 1967) the Stars are now 4-5 , in game sevens. The Stars were eliminated in their opening series last year, losing in seven games to the Calgary Flames.
- The Florida Panthers and the Carolina Hurricanes begin the Eastern finals on Thursday night. The Vegas Golden Knights host the Stars on Friday. It’s worth noting, that the two teams who reach the finals are now only halfway through the playoffs, evidence that the Stanley Cup playoffs are the most grueling post-seasons in team sports. Of the four remaining teams, the Hurricanes and Stars each own one Stanley Cup while the Panthers and Knights have never won.
D- Roope Hintz (unassisted) 15:59.
D,- Wyatt Johnson (Evegenii Dadanov, Thomas Harley) 12:48. S- Oliver Bjorkstrand (Yanni Gourde) 19:42.
Shots On Goal- Seattle 23, Dallas 28.
Penalty Minutes- Seattle 2, Dallas 2
Referees- Chris Rooney, Jean Hebert. Linesmen- Jonny Murray, Scott Cherrey. Standby Officials- Gord Dwyer, Matt MacPherson.
Three Stars- 1. Jake Oettinger 2. Roope Hintz 3. Wyatt Johnston.