We were 2:30 away from having a very different set of Three Takeaways Friday, as it looked like the Kraken were getting stymied by Alexandar Georgiev and the Colorado Avalanche. But at the eleventh hour, Seattle’s forecheck (and by “forecheck,” we mean Jaden Schwartz) went to work and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
“It was a gutsy effort,” said Schwartz. “Fourth game on the road trip. [It was] a lot of travel, and being down and just sticking with it, just keeping the pressure on. We stayed aggressive and put a lot of pucks in their end and just tried to wear them down.”
A late tying goal by Brandon Tanev and a thrilling overtime breakaway goal by Yanni Gourde meant the Kraken closed out the season series against the Stanley Cup champion Avalanche with a 2-0-1 record.
Here are our Three Takeaways from a thrilling 3-2 Seattle win.
Takeaway #1: Jaden Schwartz gets it done with hard forechecking
The No. 1 rule of the offensive-zone forecheck is to have two guys on the puck and overwhelm the puck carrier. The only two times Seattle broke through in regulation against Georgiev came after hard plays below the goal line, and Schwartz was right in the thick of it on both markers. On those plays, Seattle followed that No. 1 rule to perfection.
Down 1-0, the Kraken finally got on the board at the midway point of the second period. Bowen Byram looped behind his own net, looking for an escape hatch, but Schwartz stuck right on him like velcro. The Kraken forward angled Byram into the corner and separated him from the puck. Bjorkstrand jumped in to keep it alive, then Schwartz gathered it and fed it to Will Borgen at the blue line. Alex Wennberg got to the front of the net and got a perfect tip on Borgen’s shot.
Then, with the game winding down and things looking bleak for Seattle, Schwartz went back to work. This time, with Yanni Gourde acting as the F2 flanking Nathan MacKinnon, Schwartz went right at the superstar forward. He deflected MacKinnon’s chip, scooped up the puck, and twirled it around to Tanev, who had found a quiet spot in front of the net. Turbo banged it home for a late, game-tying goal to earn the Kraken a huge point in the standings.
What’s funny, as that game was winding down, we had just been thinking about how we couldn’t recall the last time Seattle had gotten a late tying goal to send a game to overtime. As we doubted the existence of a “clutch gene” in the Kraken, we learned all they needed to do was forecheck the Avs to death. That’s what Schwartz did Sunday, and even with a stellar performance by Georgiev, it was enough to get Seattle to an extra frame with the Stanley Cup champs.
Takeaway #2: In overtime, patience is a virtue
Early in the season, the Kraken were a mess in three-on-three overtime. They worked on it at practice after dropping their first three overtime games, and have taken a very patient approach to the extra frame ever since.
On Sunday, Wennberg won the center-ice face-off to start the extra period, and Seattle never relinquished control of the puck. The Kraken cycled through two full trios of skaters, all while maintaining possession. If they tried to get into the offensive zone and didn’t like what they saw, they would sling it all the way back into their own zone to reset.
“In the OT, you can’t ask for much more,” said coach Dave Hakstol. “The guys won the opening face-off, and we were able to dictate play from there.”
After a minute and a half of playing keep away, Vince Dunn finally saw an opening. With the Avalanche changing, Dunn spotted Gourde at the far blue line and sent a perfect 100-foot pass to catch the scrappy forward in stride. Gourde lunged for the puck, kept his foot onside, and raced in toward Georgiev. He rifled a low shot that snuck under the Colorado goalie’s blocker, rang off the post, and rattled into the net.
“I didn’t see much of the net, honestly,” said Gourde. “He’s a great goalie, he challenged the shot a lot. I didn’t see much, I just felt like shooting low blocker was my best option.”
What a goal, and what a finish to a thrilling game!
Takeaway #3: That’s a big-time road trip
It’s well known that the NHL season is a long, 82-game grind filled with ebbs and flows. If you were starting to panic after Seattle dropped three in a row to San Jose, Boston, and Toronto, you weren’t alone, but sure enough, that ebb has been replaced by a flow.
The Kraken went on the road after getting smoked by the Maple Leafs and righted the ship in a big way, rattling off key wins against the Blues, Red Wings, Blue Jackets, and—most impressively—the Avalanche.
“We’re happy with the two points,” said Hakstol. “We had to really stay with it.”
The eight out of eight possible points on the trip are enormously important for Seattle’s playoff hopes. The teams Seattle has been chasing in the Pacific Division, Los Angeles and Vegas, have been winning everything lately. That doesn’t really matter though, so long as the Kraken can keep those teams within a tentacle’s length and get themselves into the postseason. There, you never know what can happen.
With every passing day, it’s looking more and more obvious which eight Western Conference teams will end up in the playoffs, as Nashville and Calgary seem to be holding on by a thread. If the Kraken can stay above the Predators and Flames, that should punch their ticket, and they’re currently 10 and 11 points clear of those respective teams.
Getting two points against the Avs is big. Coming home from a four-game road trip at this time of year with eight points is invaluable.