Artturi Lehkonen scored twice as the Colorado Avalanche rolled off four unanswered goals, forcing a winner-take-all Game 7 to defeat the Seattle Kraken, 4-1 in game six of the Western Conference Quarterfinal before a sellout crowd of 17,151 at Climate Pledge Arena on Friday.
The night was all lined up to be a coronation of a first round triumph for a Kraken team that smashed records and expectations, storming their way to 100 points in just the second season of existence. Instead, they were served a reminder of the challenge that lies ahead with needing one more win, against a team still less than a year removed of winning the Stanley Cup.
“It’s a seven game series right,” said Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol. “(Colorado) deserved tonight’s win. They were better than we were.”
“This is it, now, right? it’s all on the line.”
For what it’s worth: Colorado is 6-9 all-time in game seven situations, losing their last five in a row. The Kraken, as a full group despite a collection of Cup winners, will be doing this for the very first time with a 26-11-4 road record on their side.
Vince Dunn, held scoreless in the first five games of the series, finally popped his first goal with 4:12 left in the first period. But Colorado delivered the game’s turning point when Mikko Rantanen deposited a loose puck into an empty net with 20 seconds left in the first period, opening the door for Colorado’s push in the second.
Erik Johnson sailed a 2-1 lead through traffic on Philipp Grubauer, and Lehkonen got a piece of Devon Toews’ shot at the front of the net for a 3-1 cushion with 3:03 left.
Lehkonen finished the game with 12 seconds left on an empty netter, securing the win for Alexandar Georgiev (22 saves).
1. Penalties played a big part of taking the Kraken game off the rails. A staple of Kraken success is five-on-five efficiency, leading the NHL for most full strength situations goals this season, along with the ability to roll four lines. After all, Daniel Sprong is a 20-goal scorer playing technically, on fourth line duties. But after a relatively strong first period which earned a lead, dodged a separate potential Colorado goal for offside and opened up pressure on the Avalanche net, they were disrupted from their system particularly in the second period. The Avalanche made their push and the Kraken were suffocated from theirs by spending energy with penalty killing four times in the period – accounting for nearly half of the entire period. Matty Beniers, Tye Kartye, Will Borgen (though it accounted for four-on-four time on a roughing minor also issued to Rantanen), and Jordan Eberle each took minor penalties and handed the Avalanche three power play opportunities.
Once Colorado emerged with a 3-1 lead in a second period where they outshot the Kraken 14-4, they had enough runway to lock up game six with a conservative approach.
2. Colorado brought championship response. Putting Colorado into a 3-2 hole is impressive, considering they hadn’t been there in two years. Finishing the Avalanche, despite a mounting pile of issues with their lineup, is a different story. Colorado came back with perhaps their strongest sustained effort the entire series, controlling the first shift off the opening puck drop (even though Seattle fans didn’t forget Cale Makar, on ice for the first shift and raucously booed each puck touch all night), winning 58 percent of their face-offs, and controlling 56 percent of the shot quality at five-on-five.
No surprise, but the same trend continued in game six, in which Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, or Devon Toews have scored or assisted on every Avalanche goal (with their bottom six forward group held completely without a goal). They will command the most ice time (all played 23 minutes or more in game six), and they will command the highest degree of defensive attention.
3. Tough for Grubauer. The most important player for the Kraken in game seven will undoubtedly be Philipp Grubauer, for the effect he can have to influence or even steal a game. The Kraken had to rely on him to do the latter in game six, where he was tested early and often – while managing a 12 save second period that included a tough save on Evan Rodrigues that threatened to put the game into even greater peril.
“Grubie was good,” said Hakstol. “He’s doing what he’s done all series for us, so his game was good. He did his job and gave us an opportunity for us to come into the third period and dig ourselves out.”
Grubauer’s lone appearance in a game seven finish was in a road defeat in the San Jose Sharks, 3-2 in the second round.
The winning goaltender? Martin Jones. The game-winning goal? Joonas Donskoi.
Though experience matters (and you can count on Grubauer taking a learning lesson from that outcome), and the Kraken have theirs in Cup winners such as Vince Dunn, Jaden Schwartz, Justin Schultz and Yanni Gourde, they will need every ounce of effort in their netminder’s career .914 save percentage in the postseason, and part of a transcendent series this year to be in the right position to pull out a game seven triumph.
KRAKEN LINEUP VS. COLORADO, GAME 6: