What a night that was. As the Kraken stepped onto the ice before their game against the Coyotes, and “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys blasted in Climate Pledge Arena, the crowd let out the type of cheer that only comes when a fanbase is truly proud of its team. It was one of those cheers that sent goosebumps up and down our arms and made us reflect on what an incredible journey the last two seasons have been.
That journey is far from over, but the Kraken hit a major milestone Thursday by qualifying for their first playoff appearance with a 4-2 win over Arizona.
“We’re new, right?” said coach Dave Hakstol. “Everybody in this room a year and 10 months ago was new, but we’ve grown a little bit. So that belief has shown itself, and we probably put just a little building block of tradition in place by solidifying a playoff spot tonight.”
To get Seattle over the line, the entire Jared McCann / Matty Beniers / Jordan Eberle line contributed in a big way, combining for eight points, and Philipp Grubauer stopped 27 shots.
Here are our Three Takeaways from a memorable night.
Takeaway #1: A huge night for the McCann/Beniers/Eberle line
Last game, we were raving about a Matty Beniers backcheck that thwarted a JT Miller breakaway. This game, we’re raving about the forechecking he did to create two goals for his linemates. Oh, and he scored a beautiful goal to boot on a night when his whole line was clicking.
Beniers’ first goal-producing attack came in the waning moments of the first period with the game tied 0-0. Jared McCann tried to center the puck, but it got deflected behind the net. Nick Schmaltz corralled it but couldn’t escape Beniers, who seemed to read Schmaltz’s mind and took the puck right off his stick. In a flash, Beniers had found Jordan Eberle in front, who got it back to McCann for McCann’s 38th goal of the season.
The second goal Beniers created came six minutes into the second period, although Beniers actually did not get onto the scoresheet for this one. With the puck deep in Arizona’s zone, JJ Moser was first on the puck. His defense partner, Patrik Nemeth, slowed down to create a pick and fend off Beniers. That plan backfired, though, because Beniers checked Nemeth into Moser, who coughed up the puck to McCann. It was the old two-for-one special.
“Gotta try to do something,” Beniers said. “Just trying to push them in, trying to make them make a mistake, and it kind of popped to Canner, and Canner made a great play.”
McCann returned the favor to Eberle from earlier in the game, and Eberle had all day to wait out Karel Vejmelka and give Seattle a 3-0 lead.
The two veteran forwards didn’t keep all the goal-scoring glory for themselves, though, as they worked together to send their rookie mate on a breakaway 3:37 into the third period. On that play, McCann made an elite defensive read to pick off a Juuso Valimaki pass in the Kraken zone. He spun and passed to Eberle, who then sprung Beniers. Beniers went in and sniped his 23rd goal of the season, then skated by the Coyotes bench and either shushed them or hit ’em with the Shooter McGavin finger gun.
“I don’t know if I did that, did I?” Beniers said with a massive grin. “Emotions run high, so I don’t know. I don’t even remember doing that, so… sorry.”
Takeaway #2: More late-game silliness from the Coyotes
It is a weird quirk in the NHL schedule that the Kraken and Coyotes are playing each other three times in a week, right at the end of the season. There must have been some carryover emotions from the Coyotes after the Kraken had embarrassed them 8-1 on Monday. In the most recent contest, the desert dogs embarrassed themselves, led by Liam O’Brien and Milos Kelemen.
In the third period, with the game out of reach, Will Borgen crushed Laurent Dauphin in the neutral zone with a clean hit. Kelemen quickly responded with a dirty hit from behind on Brandon Tanev. Tanev didn’t like that, and he got up punching.
Later, the game got out of hand when Valimaki blindsided Eeli Tolvanen away from the puck. Yanni Gourde went after Valimaki, both teams converged, and O’Brien picked a fight with Borgen.
Kelemen and O’Brien each received 17 penalty minutes for their roles on those two separate plays.
This isn’t Seattle’s game, per se, but with the playoffs now officially on the horizon, we have been really impressed in these two games against the Coyotes with how the Kraken have handled themselves. They’re taking care of a bad team between the whistles, but after the whistle, they’re sticking up for each other when Arizona starts running around. Fighting isn’t a big part of the playoffs, but being willing to pay a physical price and stand up for your teammates certainly is. Seattle has shown this week that it is more than willing to pay that price.
Takeaway #3: The Kraken did the damn thing
Coming into this season, the team was consistent in its message that the goal was to make the playoffs. Recognizing the massive turnaround that was needed, we were quite guarded in our optimism and were just hoping to see meaningful hockey at the end of the regular season.
Seattle gave us that meaningful hockey and more, achieving its own goal and clinching its first playoff berth with four games left in the season.
“You look at the leap that we made, I mean, it’s special,” said Eberle. “We’ve got a special group here, and I think from Day 1, a lot of people have written us off. And to get to this point is obviously an accomplishment.”
It’s a remarkable jump after the Kraken finished in the basement last season. Give credit to general manager Ron Francis for his many shrewd offseason additions, and even his in-season ones, like claiming Eeli Tolvanen. Also give credit to coach Dave Hakstol, who has proven time and again his ability to diagnose problems for his group and quickly fix them. The result has been an entire regular season in which a second-year team has avoided anything more than three consecutive losses.
“We use the term and the word ‘belief,’ and that’s a really hard thing to establish,” said Hakstol. “But you establish it through working hard, you establish it through camaraderie, you establish it through going through some ups and downs together and coming out on the other side with a little bit of success. And this group did that throughout the season in small little increments.”
Now, staring down their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, can the Kraken make some noise?
“I think this group feels that we’re not done,” said Eberle. “You look at the Stanley Cup Playoffs, that’s why it’s the funnest thing to play in, everybody has a chance. So, this is only half the battle, and now it’s time when the real work begins.”