Two weeks taught us the Stanley Cup Playoffs come as advertised: emotional, gripping, pulsating, and ultimately, cathartic.
That’s what happens when you win a series and do something that nobody has done in the last 97 years: beat a defending Stanley Cup champion in your first playoff run. The Kraken joined the Montreal Maroons in that honor and became the first team ever to accomplish the feat in their first ever opening round series.
Kraken advance, Colorado eliminated. Who would have thought it?
Well, the Kraken in their own dressing room, that’s for sure.
What’s ahead now: a best-of-seven series against a surging Dallas Stars squad, who won two out of three games against the Kraken and nearly won the Central Division with 108 points and a 47-21-14 record. They belted the Minnesota Wild out of the postseason in six games, though finishing just eight points ahead of the Kraken.
Again, this will be another classic underdog (Kraken) versus juggernaut (Dallas) matchup, but never say never when it comes to the playoffs. Just look back at the first round. Using the G-rated version of this phrase, the Colorado Avalanche messed around and found out.
Here are five key players for the Kraken in this series, attempting to reach the Conference Final:
1. Philipp Grubauer (G): Full stop - they’ll need his best, again. Grubauer was typically the best player on the ice in the first round against Colorado, now he must match, if not exceed, the same results in round two against a stingy Jake Oettinger. Shedding any concerns of the past two seasons and taking a step toward “money goaltender” status with his virtuoso game seven performance (yes, this happens when you win big games), Grubauer is riding a .926 save percentage in the playoffs, currently best in his career, and bolstered his career postseason numbers to 23-13 and a .916 save percentage.
2. Yanni Gourde (C): Two Stanley Cup titles in Tampa Bay will teach you a lot about winning, and Gourde’s line put on a masterclass in clutch shifts in the playoffs – from hemming Colorado in their own zone in the first shift, to delivering the playoffs opening goal, to delivering the two goals needed to upset the Avalanche when Oliver Bjorkstrand went bonkers and scored twice, while easily putting himself in position to score five. Very likely, they will be called on to handle the Stars trio of Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz and Tyler Seguin. By the way, Gourde led the “strength in numbers” Kraken with five points in the first round.
3. Jamie Oleksiak (D): How much has Oleksiak been waiting for a matchup like this? Time will tell if motivation against a former team will serve results like Gruabuer in ousting Colorado, but Oleksiak has emerged quietly as one of the pillars of the Kraken defensive core. It’s scary what a big frame at 6-foot-7 can do when angry: Oleksiak laid into the Avalanche early in the series, was seen blocking shots in the last seconds of regulation, spent the last 2:30 on the ice in game five defending a one-goal lead, leads the Kraken in blocked shots and is tied for third in hits. A physical Oleksiak, who helped get the Stars into the Stanley Cup Final three years ago, is a scary proposition to handle.
4. Jordan Eberle (RW): Can the Kraken get him going into the next gear? Eberle was held to three points and just a goal in the seven game series against the Avalanche, but it was one of the most important ones when he buried an overtime game-winner in game four. No Jared McCann and Andre Burakovsky, for now, means the scoring burden will fall on depth of course, but the Kraken could really benefit from the form Eberle rounded into when he put up productive numbers with the New York Islanders, at one point scoring six goals in ten games and 23 points in 29 playoff games.
5. Adam Larsson (D): The bearcat proved he’s primed for playoff hockey when the stakes get higher and the opponents get meaner. Larsson, with Vince Dunn by his side as a five-on-five pair, dished out a team high 37 hits in the seven game first round series win, and was second on the Kraken with 17 blocked shots. Nobody is on the ice more than Larsson in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, leading the Kraken at 25:30. His presence to consume the Stars top offensive threats will be huge in tipping the scales toward the Kraken favor.
By the way, scored an overtime winner in March, the last time the Kraken were in Dallas.