We don’t want to jinx anything, because we know as well as anyone that nothing is clinched until it is clinched. And the Kraken still have some road to cover before they can say they’re in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time. BUT… Even with a 5-1 loss to the Wild on Monday, things are looking pretty good for the Kraken and their chances of earning their first postseason berth in franchise history.
According to MoneyPuck.com, the Kraken now hold a 98.5 percent chance of making the playoffs. With 88 points in the standings and nine games remaining, they are seven points ahead of Calgary with a game in hand and eight points ahead of Nashville. The Kraken just need to stay ahead of those two clubs.
With a day off for the team Tuesday, we thought it could be a fun exercise to consider Seattle’s various possible first-round playoff matchups, which we can narrow down to five (or maybe six if you include the Edmonton Oilers, though we did not include them in this exercise) different opponents. Heck, maybe we’ll even get a little crazy and make some predictions.
Let’s consider the options and how the Kraken could stack up against each possible adversary.
Reminder of how playoff seeding works
Here’s how the seeding works, which will help us understand who are the possible opponents in Round 1. The top three teams from the Pacific Division and the top three from the Central take the “automatic” qualifier spots to make up six of the eight positions. The other two spots are “wild card” teams, meaning the two teams in the Western Conference with the most points that didn’t earn an automatic qualifier spot. So, the wild card teams can come from either division, making it possible one division could have five teams in the playoffs in a given season.
It is looking more and more likely that the Kraken will take the top wild card spot, with the Winnipeg Jets taking the second spot. If the Kraken take the first wild card, they play the division winner with the lowest point total, meaning—based on current standings—Minnesota would be the opponent. Should the Central winner end up with more points than the Pacific winner, then Seattle would face the winner of the Pacific.
We will order these opponents based on what we see as the most likely scenarios.
Make sense? Great. Let’s get into it.
Season series: Kraken lost series with 1-2-0 record
With Minnesota atop the Central Division and trailing Vegas by three points, the Wild are the current matchup for the Kraken if the season were to end today. We saw these teams play each other Monday, so comparing the squads feels fresh and easy right now.
Why the Kraken can win against the Wild
Despite the recent 5-1 loss, the Kraken could compete with Minnesota in a seven-game series. They were the better team for a lot of Monday’s game, but Marc-Andre Fleury played great at one end, and Philipp Grubauer had a bad night at the other end.
Seattle played fast and had the Wild on their heels for most of the first 40 minutes but couldn’t capitalize on their opportunities, while Minnesota very much did. If Seattle can get the balanced scoring it has gotten throughout the season, it will have a good chance to upset the Wild, who—by the way—love a good first-round playoff exit.
Why the Kraken can lose against the Wild
We’re going to get this one out of the way now, and this will stand for almost every possible matchup, even if we don’t directly mention it moving forward: goaltending.
The goal crease remains a thorn in the Kraken’s tentacle, and even though the club has had good stretches from both Martin Jones and Philipp Grubauer this season, the consistency just hasn’t been there. In the last couple weeks, the only goalie that has really given the team quality outings has been Joey Daccord, who is now back in the AHL.
This is an area in which the Wild would have an obvious advantage, especially if Grubauer doesn’t get things rolling in these last couple weeks of the regular season. Worth noting, Fleury only makes up part of a two-headed goaltending monster, sharing the crease with Filip Gustavsson. Gustavsson has been quietly sensational, with a 2.01 goals against average and .932 save percentage in 34 appearances.
Another thing that concerns us about this matchup is that Minnesota has some big, tough customers that could push Seattle’s smaller players around in a seven-game series. Outside of Jamie Oleksiak, the Kraken really have no answer for guys like Ryan Reaves and Marcus Foligno, who will surely be looking to stir things up against a smaller Kraken squad. Physicality isn’t everything in a playoff series, but it is a big part of it. Having John Hayden healthy would sure be nice…
Oh, and worth noting, Minnesota’s superstar forward, Kirill Kaprizov, did not play Monday, but should be back in time for the playoffs. Yippee!
Season series: Kraken won series with 2-0-1 record
Two of Seattle’s most memorable wins of the season came against the defending Stanley Cup champion Avalanche. The first one was back in October on what would have been Grubauer’s best outing of the early going, had he not gotten injured that night. Believe it or not, Karson Kuhlman was the hero in that game, scoring 12 minutes into the third period to break a 2-2 tie. The second win came more recently on March 5. That night, Seattle overcame a late 2-1 deficit and earned the W thanks to a Yanni Gourde breakaway goal.
Why the Kraken can win against the Avalanche
For some reason, Seattle has matched up pretty well against the Avs this season, though there have been injuries to key Colorado players during those games. Grubauer seems to really like playing against his old team and has posted a 1.70 GAA and .928 save percentage in his three outings against them.
If Seattle can roll four lines and get contributions up and down the roster—as the team has done all season—we actually like the forward depth of the Kraken better than that of the Avalanche. If they can also come up with an effective strategy for checking Nathan MacKinnon, there is a path to victory for Seattle in a seven-game series.
Why the Kraken can lose against the Avalanche
While Seattle’s forward lines are deeper, the top-end skill of the Avalanche is among the best in the NHL. In two years of covering the Kraken, Nathan MacKinnon is one of two players—besides Connor McDavid—who gets the puck and instantly makes us hold our breath. He operates at a different level from his teammates and opponents. Teamed with Mikko Rantanen and Val Nichushkin, that top line is scary, as is the top defense pairing of Cale Makar and Devon Toews and the potent power play that clicks at 25.7 percent.
This would be a classic matchup of a top-heavy, highly skilled forward corps against a more balanced attack.
Also worth noting, Colorado got over the hump last season and won hockey’s biggest prize. The experience of that kind of playoff run goes a long way, and while Seattle has plenty of playoff miles from individuals in the room, the group has never been there together.
Vegas Golden Knights
Season series: Currently tied at one regulation win apiece, two games left to play
It’s a bit of a tossup as to who would be the next most likely matchup for the Kraken. We don’t foresee a Central team catching Vegas to take the top spot in the conference, but if Minnesota, Colorado, or Dallas does that, and Seattle holds its current position, then the Kraken would play the Golden Knights. The other possibility in the tossup is that Dallas sneaks by both Colorado and Minnesota to win the Central, but doesn’t catch Vegas. We think it’s more likely that Seattle plays Vegas, as opposed to Dallas.
How fun would this matchup be? The two newest teams in the NHL, which have some natural rivalry tendencies, duking it out for expansion supremacy.
Why the Kraken can win against the Golden Knights
If it weren’t for Seattle proving it can win against Vegas on Nov. 25, we would have hated this matchup. Way back in their Oct. 15 game against the VGK’s at Climate Pledge Arena, the Kraken got run out of their own building in a 5-2 defeat. That brought Vegas to a perfect 5-0-0 all-time record against the Kraken, but thankfully, the boys bounced back for an impressive win later in the fall.
A lot has changed since those early season games. Vegas has had a very impressive second half of the season, but questions remain around their health and goaltending. They traded for Jonathan Quick at the trade deadline, which gives them another option, but they’ve had a carousel of five different goalies in net for them on any given night. Meanwhile, Mark Stone remains out indefinitely after undergoing a second back procedure in nine months in January.
We also wonder if the excitement of a series against one of their closest rivals could lift the Kraken to a higher level of play in this one.
Why the Kraken can lose against the Golden Knights
Vegas is generally a scary team. Their building is tough to play in, they have star-caliber forwards, and—even as they have rotated through so many goalies—all of their netminders seem to be having success in coach Bruce Cassidy’s system. They’re very patient in their approach, keeping shots to the outside and taking advantage of turnovers, and they have a more balanced attack than a team like Colorado.
If they can get Seattle to run around, and their goalies make the saves they’re supposed to make, the Golden Knights are better than the Kraken. There’s a reason this team has been red hot in the second half of the season.
The Golden Knights and Kraken play each other for the last two games of the regular season. By then, most of the playoff matchups will be largely decided. Wouldn’t those two games be interesting if a Round 1 matchup between Vegas and Seattle was on the horizon?
Season series: Kraken are 1-1-1 against Dallas
Like Vegas, we would have hated this matchup for the Kraken, had they not pulled off a win against Dallas last Tuesday. Twice in 10 days, Seattle gave up late tying goals against the Stars in six-on-five scenarios, and it sandwiched in an ugly 5-2 home defeat between those two games. Thankfully, the Kraken did escape with an overtime win in Dallas when Adam Larsson showed off some silky mitts to score on a breakaway.
Why the Kraken can win against the Stars
Call us crazy, but for some reason, Dallas feels like a less scary opponent than others we’ve mentioned here, even though Seattle hasn’t been all that successful against that group. There is plenty of skill on the roster, with Jason Robertson, Miro Heiskanen, and Roope Hintz leading the way, and with veterans Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin now playing more supporting roles, this team is less top heavy than it used to be.
Their record also doesn’t look great, but the Kraken had every opportunity to beat Dallas in their first matchup and threw it away late. Had it closed out that game, Seattle would have a 2-1-0 record against Dallas, even with the dud performance on March 13.
Why the Kraken can lose against the Stars
We just mentioned Benn and Seguin playing lower in the lineup now, with the young guns taking over the bulk of the production. But that’s a pretty good mix of young skill and veteran presence, and Benn and Joe Pavelski are quietly having impressive campaigns with 31 and 21 goals respectively.
Dallas also may be in the Kraken players’ heads a bit, after those two late goals in as many weeks. If the Kraken find themselves ahead by a goal, they may be questioning their ability to close out a game.
We also can’t forget the impact goalie Jake Oettinger can have on a series after he dazzled and nearly singlehandedly stole a playoff round from the Calgary Flames last season.
Los Angeles Kings
Season series: Kraken hold a 3-0-0 record against the Kings, one game left to play
This would be another super fun series that would surely involve some nastiness. It would take the Kings winning the Pacific Division over Vegas but also finishing behind the winner of the Central Division for this matchup to come to fruition. OR, the Kraken would have to drop to the second wild card spot, and the Kings would need to have the best record in the Western Conference.
Why the Kraken can win against the Kings
All three of their contests against one another came in the first two months of the season, but the Kraken certainly hold a psychological edge over the Kings by winning all three. That could become a real advantage if the Kraken manage to knock off Los Angeles in their final regular-season meeting on April 1.
The Kings are beatable, in large part, because a couple of their mainstay players—while still productive—have gotten older, making Seattle’s speed a valuable weapon. Meanwhile, members of the Los Angeles youth movement are unproven in the playoffs; the Kings lost in the first round to Edmonton last season.
We just don’t want to see any 9-8 playoff games.
Why the Kraken can lose against the Kings
The Kings have a nasty top line of Kevin Fiala, Phillip Danault, and Viktor Arvidsson. Fiala has struggled in playoffs past, but if that line is clicking come playoff time, they will be tough to stop. Adrian Kempe has also had a breakout season playing with Anze Kopitar and has scored a whopping 36 goals.
LA has had a lot of power-play success this season, too, with similar numbers in that area to Colorado.
Do we think the Kraken can win a playoff round? Yes, we do.
They have proven throughout the season that they can skate with anybody, and if they get Andre Burakovsky back by then (he’s gotta come back by then, right?), they have the depth to roll four effective lines.
They also have proven to be an excellent road team; that is a good sign for Seattle, which—as a wild card team—is unlikely to have home-ice “advantage” for any round of the playoffs.
Do we think the Kraken can make a “deep” playoff run? Probably not yet.
Seattle’s success in the playoffs this season will depend on which version of the team shows up. Will it be the group that dominated in November and January? Or the one that fizzled in December and February? Either way, we just don’t think the Kraken have the combination of skill, grit, and goaltending needed to make a run at a Stanley Cup yet.
If the front office thought this was the time to make a deep run, they would have made moves at the trade deadline.