Oliver Bjorkstrand scored twice including a dramatic game winner with 31.6 seconds left in regulation, sending the Seattle Kraken to a 4-3 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night at Ball Arena.
How it happened:
· A line that has continuously tormented Colorado – Eeli Tolvanen, Yanni Gourde, and Bjorkstrand – set up the game winning goal. Bjorkstrand’s heavy pressure drew two defenders behind the net, and Ross Colton vacated his man, Tolvanen, at the crease. Bjorkstrand found Tolvanen, wide open, whose first attempt was stopped by Ivan Prosvetov. But Bjorkstrand snuck to the blocker side post, unmarked and buried the rebound for a 4-3 lead.
· The Kraken built a 3-1, though it would slip away, on goals from Jaden Schwartz, Matty Beniers (his first of the season), and Bjorkstrand’s first of the game.
Bjorkstrand is on fire, collecting his third multi point game of the season and has 11 points in the last 10 games. Nathan MacKinnon and Valeri Nichushskin strung back to back goals to rally the Avalanche out of their two goal hole, with MacKinnon bagging a three point game. Philipp Grubauer, who delivered the last Avalanche loss on their home ice in game 7 of last year’s first round, posted a 23 save effort. Prosvetov took the loss on 19 stops.
The Kraken improved to 6-1 in Denver over the last two seasons, counting both the regular season and playoffs. Thursday night’s win will be their only visit to Colorado for the regular season.
Takeaways from the game:
1. The kids are alright.
They didn’t play much after the first period, but they set the tone. Tye Kartye, bumped up to Alex Wennberg’s line in the absence of Jordan Eberle, delivered an assist on Schwartz’s game opening goal and had a pair of hits. Ryan Winterton (who got the solo lap treatment – sans helmet – in NHL debut) and Shane Wright (season debut), were unsurprisingly sheltered in ice time but looked unfazed. Wright had a terrific look in the opening minutes on an 88-mile per hour blast from the right circle, and Winterton strung a long outlet pass, tape-to-tape for Devin Shore, who was stopped on a breakaway.
Just about half of their time on ice was spent in the offensive zone.
“I think we were on a line in exhibition games in Seattle,” said Winterton. “I’ve played with ‘Shoresy’ before and ‘Wrighter,’ I’ve played down in Coachella with him. Just two good players who made it easy on me.”
“Rock solid game,” said Hakstol on both players.
“Both of them showed really good poise. They looked like they were comfortable to me. The moment definitely wasn’t too big. They went out and both played well. They contributed, and (with) the ability of their line not just to play consistently, but generate scoring chances – our first goal, they generate the line change that led to the first goal of the game. They drew a penalty. They did a ton of things hidden in the scoresheet that were very important.”
Because Colorado dictated the matchups as the home team with the last line change before a face-off, putting Wright’s line out for the ideal situation (read: avoid the MacKinnon line) was a difficult task. It’ll be much easier for three of the next five home games coming up, where the Kraken can dictate ice time easier, on their own terms.
2. Doing the “little” things made for another big road win.
The Kraken got key saves out of Philipp Grubauer, who has won in five of his last six appearances in Denver, including the postseason. They won the special teams battle. Their quiet but effective first period kept Ball Arena silent. And finally, when they got the expected Avalanche flurry late in the game, they had no choice but to sink or swim with grit: they blocked shots. Eeli Tolvanen and Alex Wennberg dug in late. Jamie Oleksiak blocked a team-high six shots.
Ultimately, it felt like a type of playoff game – hang on with grit. They trailed Colorado in critical full strength metrics, such as shot attempts, and shot quality for the first two periods. It’s not easy to win there. After the Avalanche tied the game, the Kraken dug deep with a clutch shift in the final minute of regulation, then delivered a strong message of being capable to get desperate, when the situation called for desperation.
3. They’ve got the road map to show they’re going to be ok.
The Kraken are down Eberle, Andre Burakovsky, Brandon Tanev, and for Thursday night, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. This situation is more daunting if the Kraken are a top-heavy team offensively, which they are not. They led the NHL last season in five-on-five goals. Virtually half of the team hit double digits in goals.
“Ultimately we showed great resiliency and found the game winner,” said Hakstol.
Still, they were blessed with nearly flawless health last season. This year is a different story, and it will command more out of Matty Beniers. Perfect timing to deliver his first goal of the season, which wasn’t cheap, off a left circle wrist shot that cleanly beat Prosvetov to the glove side. Jaden Schwartz and Oliver Bjorkstrand didn’t skip a beat. They’re both now sharing the driver’s seat for the offense. Goaltending has been as good as it gets since expansion. Jared McCann has six goals in 13 games, and picked up where he left off. Two rookies were installed in the lineup for the first time Thursday night, who appeared to fit in. Special teams were terrific.
This has built the blueprint of what it will take to “battle” through the injury bug until Ebele and Burakovsky, two linchpins of this four line-pronged offensive attack, are healthy. Thursday night, we were served a dose of what it will take to win games on a consistent basis.