Soak it in Seattle. It happened.
The Seattle Kraken, in just their second season, shattered expectations across the hockey world and eliminated the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche in a 2-1 victory on Sunday night, winning the best of seven series, 4-3 in a game to remember before 18,143 at Ball Arena.
Oliver Bjorkstrand, acquired in an offseason trade last summer from the Columbus Blue Jackets, picked the right game to make his mark – his two goals in game seven, and only two of the series, were enough to extinguish Colorado, while Philipp Grubauer, putting any kind of struggles in the past, delivered a virtuoso performance with 33 stops.
COMPLETE RADIO GAME HIGHLIGHTS
Nathan MacKinnon had the only goal for the Avalanche, on a late second period power play.
“Really even series,” said Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol, who earned the first series victory of his NHL coaching career.
“Our goaltender was the best player on the ice. We had a couple guys step up and make game-changing plays.”
Attributing to Kraken color analyst Dave Tomlinson, it was man power over star power. The Kraken had 15 players score a goal in the series, and nobody from the Avalanche bottom six forward group scored at all. It took a collective effort to slay the Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar, and Devon Toews-led Avalanche (any of the four were on the Avalanche scoresheet, scoring or delivering an assist on every Avalanche goal) in seven games, and decimate any preconceived notions of who they were supposed to be, nine months ago.
“Who cares?” said Hakstol. “We’ve heard it since September. We’ve heard it – everybody waited through the regular season as we got to different points for our group to go away and fall off.”
“We’re not going to go away. We have substance.”
It’s onto round two, where the Kraken now get to size up against the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Semifinal. Tuesday in Dallas is where game one (6:30pm PT / 93.3 KJR / Kraken Audio Network) will take place, with game two set for Thursday and the remainder of the series, which will come to Climate Pledge Arena for game three, still to be announced.
1. Philipp Grubauer: worth every penny. It was going to take a million dollar performance to knock out the defending Stanley Cup champion into the summer.
So, how do you like having Philipp Grubauer for four more years, at $5.9 million?
At a .926 save percentage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, ranking fifth best in the league among starting goaltenders, it’s his best mark so far in his postseason career, a tick above the .925 save percentage with the Avalanche in their 2018-19 run that nearly broke into the Conference Final, as a juggernaut on the rise.
“We’ve shown it all year we can play with the best and beat the best,” said Grubauer.
“Guys made it really easy for me to see pucks and the ones I didn’t see; they did a hell of a job blocking them.”
In game seven, Grubauer and the Kraken knew they had to be ready for one last tidal wave of energy from the Avalanche – and it arrived on schedule in the first period. Nothing got by him on 16 shots, including a ten-bell save on Nathan MacKinnon from between the circles. Maybe this wasn’t expressed as personal, but after leaving the Avalanche in the free agent market, he played like it was personal – and saved his best game of his Kraken career when it mattered most: 33 saves.
“I don’t know what to say, it means a lot ending their season and beating the defending Stanley Cup champion,” said Grubauer.
Like goaltending coach Steve Briere, he may never have to buy a meal around town for a long, long time.
2. Tim Ohahsi and Brady Morgan are also living like legends today. In case you need a re-introduction, the duo is the hard-working brain trust of the staff as video coaches. They are the primary conduit between the eyes on the bench and video replay, out of sight, and to the general public, typically out of mind. But not in the third period in game seven. Take for instance, when Nathan MacKinnon blasted a one-timer from the slot to tie the game at 2-2, and left Ball Arena nearly unhinged in another trademark Avalanche comeback.
Not so fast. The way these things work: Morgan and Ohashi, from beneath the bowels of Ball Arena, instantaneously spotted something wrong: the Avalanche were offside. By a routine signal to the coaching staff, Dave Hakstol was able to take their message and immediately call over the officials for a coach’s challenge, likely with the Kraken season hanging in the balance. A confirmed offside call would wipe the goal away, maintain the Kraken lead, and evaporate any manufactured energy by the Avalanche and their crowd. If the goal stood, the Kraken would lose the coach’s challenge, the Avalanche would earn a tie game, and go on a power play for a delay of game penalty issued to the Kraken. Who knows what happens after that.
That’s a ton of pressure to get a call right. Ohashi and Morgan had conviction to deliver a correction in a high pressure game seven situation and helped save the Kraken season. They too, may not need to buy a meal around town for a long, long time.
3. A monumental moment for a monumental season. Want to build a fan base? Start a major league team. Want to take it further? Make the playoffs. Want to get even more serious? Go on a playoff run.
Check, check, and check. The Seattle Kraken are shattering expectations and captivating a city with a feat nearly unheard of in the NHL, and unseen across the Seattle sports landscape since the Clinton administration. They became the first team out of the expansion box to eliminate a defending Stanley Cup champion in their first ever playoff series, and only the second team to do it in any kind of series since 1926, when the Montreal Maroons defeated the Victoria Cougars. Nobody before in Seattle modern sports history has done this – from the Mariners to the Seahawks, to the Storm, to the Sounders, to the OL Reign, to the Sonics.
That most previous mentioned team was the last Seattle team to ever win a game seven, when the 1996 Sonics, led by Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, blew the roof off Key Arena in the Western Conference Final to eliminate the Utah Jazz, en route to the NBA Finals.
The Kraken will play hockey into the month of May, with unseasonable but welcomed warmer temperatures surrounding a playoff run that is catching fire, and the attention of everybody, but also helping build another level of Seattle’s finest sports moments.
KRAKEN LINEUP VS. COLORADO, GAME 6: