You may have thought you felt the wind pick up late Thursday around the Seattle metropolitan area. But that wasn’t actually wind you were feeling; that was the entire Kraken fanbase simultaneously breathing a huge sigh of relief as Seattle snuck by the San Jose Sharks with a crucial 2-1 overtime win.
Things are starting to feel too close for comfort in the Western Conference standings. After losing three straight at home, Thursday’s game against a lowly San Jose team felt like a must win for Seattle. It wasn’t easy or pretty, but the Kraken barely got the job done and earned the desperately needed two points to stop the bleeding and stay seven points ahead of Calgary in the wild card race.
Philipp Grubauer out-dueled James Reimer and stopped 31 of 32 shots, and Oliver Bjorkstrand and Vince Dunn gave the team just enough offensive output.
“Last time we were in here, it wasn’t the game we were looking for,” said Grubauer. “We didn’t grab the points, so we wanted to make sure we got the points today.”
Here are our Three Takeaways from a relieving 2-1 overtime Kraken win over the Sharks.
Takeaway #1: Thank goodness for Oliver Bjorkstrand
As we arrived at the third period with the score still tied 0-0, there was a sense that the first team to score would end up winning this painfully tight game. Just over a minute into the frame, 20-year-old rookie William Eklund found himself behind the Kraken defense. He got a shot away, forcing Philipp Grubauer to make what seemed like an important save, but he also took a slash in the process from Ryan Donato and drew a penalty shot. Eklund converted on the penalty shot, giving the Sharks a 1-0 lead.
This is when dread set in for Kraken fans, who surely remember a miserable 4-0 loss to the Sharks at SAP Center on Feb. 20. Like that night, Seattle was again playing down to a lesser opponent Thursday and giving San Jose a chance to win, while struggling to muster any kind of success against Reimer.
Fortunately for Seattle fans, Oliver Bjorkstrand is a Kraken.
Prior to this game, coach Dave Hakstol moved Bjorkstrand back to his old line with Eeli Tolvanen and Yanni Gourde, and the move paid off. Seven minutes into the third period, Gourde fired a 110-foot pass from behind Seattle’s net to Bjorkstrand in the neutral zone. Bjorkstrand raced in and buried a shot over the glove of Reimer, leveling the score at 1-1 and giving the Kraken and their fans hope they could salvage this game.
Sure enough, when overtime hit, it was Bjorkstrand who paid it forward to Vince Dunn with a smart stretch pass of his own, and Dunn went in and scored the game winner.
Without Bjorkstrand, the Kraken could be in a dire situation right now.
Takeaway #2: Thank goodness for Vince Dunn
Speaking of Dunn, he has had quite the second half to this NHL season. The puck-moving defenseman has blossomed offensively, and he could truly be in the Norris Trophy conversation if he continues to produce at this same breakneck pace for the rest of the season. He won’t win it, but he could be in the conversation.
Dunn extended his franchise record point streak to 11 games with his overtime goal Thursday, pushing the Kraken back within one point of the third-place Edmonton Oilers. He also set a new career high for goals with his 13th of the season, and with 56 points, he has far surpassed his previous career high in that category.
His latest point was a bit fortuitous, but it had a big impact on Seattle’s playoff hopes. With the three-on-three overtime period well underway, Bjorkstrand circled back in the Kraken zone and recognized that all three Sharks had shaded to one side of the ice. That left Dunn open on the other side at the San Jose blue line. Bjorkstrand hit Dunn with a perfect pass, and Dunn made a simple play to skate in, drift toward the slot, and shoot for Reimer’s five hole.
Reimer—who was on a dominant streak against the Kraken—came back down to Earth in that moment and allowed the puck to squeak through the wickets.
“Just reading the pre-scout and everything, [goalie coach Steve Briere] said if he’s feeling it, throw one five hole,” said Dunn. “I don’t know if [Briere] is that smart, or if I was just a little lucky, but maybe kudos to him.”
Dunn has proven to be one of Seattle’s two best selections in the Expansion Draft—along with Jared McCann—and could be a building block for the future of this team. The 26-year-old’s contract is expiring after this season, but he will be a restricted free agent. What kind of a raise will he get on his next deal?
Takeaway #3: It was *almost* a night of missed opportunities
We mentioned Reimer’s dominant streak against the Kraken in Takeaway #2, and for almost the entire hockey game Thursday, it felt like he was going to pull out another win. In four appearances against Seattle, Reimer has now stopped 122 of 127 shots for a .961 save percentage and a 1.25 goals against average.
Aside from Bjorkstrand’s game-tying goal in the third period, the Kraken had several chances in regulation that looked like sure goals. But in every case, the puck would skitter through the crease, hit the post, or fly wide of the net. That’s just how it goes when you’re facing a goalie that has your number, and Reimer definitely had Seattle’s number.
The most egregious miss came after an errant clearing attempt by Reimer landed on the stick of Jaden Schwartz. Reimer was way out of the net, so Sharks players threw themselves into the crease to try to stop Schwartz from scoring. Looking for an opening, Schwartz stickhandled, but never actually got a shot away.
That wasn’t the only near miss, though. McCann had a wide-open look from the slot in the first but fired wide, Adam Larsson hit the inside of the post early in the second, and John Hayden tipped a shot through Reimer’s legs in the third, only to have it slide outside the left post.
To Seattle’s credit, the group stuck with it and found just enough offensive output to get the desperately needed two standings points.
“[The two points are] very important right now,” said Dunn. “They don’t always have to be pretty, but we just have to make sure we find a way to get two. Every point really matters right now, so that’s very big for the team to get back on track here.”
The Kraken now face a much tougher—and even more important—test Saturday against the Edmonton Oilers.
“Coming up, it’s a pretty big test,” said Grubauer. “We’re playing teams that are even with us in the standings or within a couple points. So you can’t waste any points tonight.”