Forging a playoff run that got almost halfway to the Stanley Cup and reached halfway to June, the Seattle Kraken officially closed the book on their magical second season as the Dallas Stars held them off, 2-1 in game seven before a sellout crowd at American Airlines Center on Monday.
Dallas will meet Vegas in the Western Conference Final.
It wasn’t just the end of a nice playoff run. It was the genesis of the next wave of fandom in Seattle, drawing comparisons to the hockey boom that followed in markets like San Jose’s Cinderella run in 1994, the Colorado Avalanche cup title two years later, and the Dallas Stars run through the playoffs in the 1990’s after they moved from Minnesota.
It starts with the fans.
“They’re a huge part of it,” said Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol.
“That’s the best playoff atmosphere I’ve experienced. Tremendous, right from the start of the year. They showed up. They were there coming off a tough first year and helped us build and grow throughout the year. On the flipside, that will be a perspective that I want our players to have and probably won’t register home tonight, but this group changed the landscape of hockey in Seattle. This particular group had the guts to change the culture, the trajectory, the belief of our franchise as well.”
Welcome to the next wave, with the tide rising again in four months for training camp.
Dallas controlled a bevy of shot quality yet the Kraken kept it scoreless for 35 minutes until Roope Hintz scored off a turnover for a 1-0 lead, with 4:01 left in the period. Dallas would need more, when Wyatt Johnston beat a race for a loose puck, negated an icing call, and banked a backhander off Philipp Grubauer for a 2-0 lead with 7:12 left in regulation.
The Kraken had one last gasp with Oliver Bjorkstrand scoring at the front of the net with 17.6 seconds left, and then remarkably forced one final faceoff with 9.2 seconds left in the Stars zone, making a miracle comeback possible. The Kraken won an offensive zone face-off, drew the puck back to their team MVP, Vince Dunn, who fired a blast on net that Jake Oettinger kicked away and just out of the reach of Jordan Eberle.
Oettinger made 22 saves for the win.
1. Jake Oettinger got the win, but Philipp Grubauer was “that guy.” One thing we’ll take from this series is goaltending, and perhaps how unpredictable it turned out – Grubauer and Oettinger were stars in their first round series wins but were pulled for a combined three times in this series. Oettinger proved – again – he’s lights out when bouncing back from a loss, but the Kraken wouldn’t have been in sniffing distance without Grubauer, making grade-A save after grade-A save. The glove stop on Tyler Seguin and another big stop on Hintz gave the Kraken hope, they could “goalie” the Stars out of game seven. It didn’t happen, but from a Kraken perspective, they have a goaltender for four more years who turned the corner since March and had a .951 save percentage in a pair of game sevens.
2. Dallas’ command with the puck set the tone. The Kraken were a step slow to loose pucks, retrievals, and their transition game. They were forced to defend a ton, especially in the first two periods, and were outmatched in five-on-five shot quality at 70 percent. The Stars outnumbered the Kraken in high-danger chances at full strength, too, at 15-5. Getting through two series that went the distance was an indication of not much gas in the tank.
“You’ve got to be sharp getting out of your zone against this team,” said Hakstol.
“Too often, we didn’t have a lot of gas left in the tank by the time we got to the offensive zone.”
If the Kraken emptied the tank, this was a clear cut indication, where they were taken out of their game throughout parts of game seven.
3. What we experienced: a playoff run that will go a long, long way. The ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup, not just make the playoffs. That’s a bar that will move higher for expectations in this market, years down the road, established by a historical run to the second round that re-set the regular season bar based on point turnaround, a first round knockout of the defending champs, and pushing Dallas to the brink in seven games.
The Kraken drew remarkable attention across the Pacific Northwest to firmly set their footprint in the circle of Seattle sports over the last two months. They have a core in place that gained valuable experience. They have a shiny new rookie in Matty Besniers that will be around potentially for years to come, who just gained a pair of seven-game series experiences shortly before he’s expected to receive the Calder Trophy. They have a goaltender who has arguably turned the corner, and a stable of prospects and draft picks in their arsenal. They have never hosted a non-sellout crowd, and if like other sunbelt markets, are ready to experience a boom of new hockey fans and players, young and old.
Playoff runs matter, and the end of the Kraken version, 2022-23 version, is not so much a death of a season, but a birth of the next great chapter.