Here we go, folks! Game 1 of the first playoff appearance in the history of the Seattle Kraken has arrived. The boys in deep-sea blue are in Denver to take on the defending Stanley Cup champs, and nobody is giving them a chance. There are certainly reasons to fear this Colorado team, but we’ve liked this potential Avalanche matchup for the Kraken for some time.
Still, for the Kraken to get through this opening round, it will take a close-to-perfect performance for four out of seven games. The Kraken will need to limit the damage done by Avalanche superstars Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, and Mikko Rantanen, and they will need to have their balanced scoring show up, as it has for most (but not all) of the season.
Let’s dig into the storylines surrounding Game 1 of this intriguing series and consider what Seattle is facing.
Daniel Sprong injury woes
It’s no secret Seattle’s depth is its biggest strength. Sure, there is a 40-goal scorer on the top line in Jared McCann, but realistically, the Kraken have two second lines and two third lines (or three second lines and a third line, depending on how you want to slice it). The Kraken do not beat teams by having their top trio take over games. Instead, they win by attacking in waves with all four lines, and when the right matchup presents itself, any of the four can break through on a given night.
A huge piece of that depth scoring this season has been Daniel Sprong, who racked up 21 goals and 25 assists while playing exclusively in a fourth-line role and mixing in as a power-play specialist.
He missed practice both Saturday and Sunday, and coach Dave Hakstol called him day to day. The team listed Sprong in their injury report Monday and called up Tye Kartye from the Coachella Valley Firebirds for the first time in his pro career.
We are hopeful Kartye’s recall is just insurance in case Sprong can’t go, but if Sprong is out, that would hurt Seattle’s chances in Game 1 and perhaps Game 2. Aside from adding to the team’s five-on-five offensive prowess, Sprong has been one of the main reasons for Seattle’s recent power play improvement. Playing on the left half wall, Sprong has brought a mix of creativity and a wicked shot to the second unit.
At Sunday’s practice, the second unit had been shuffled around a bit, with Yanni Gourde serving in the middle “bumper” role, with Oliver Bjorkstrand moving from the bumper spot to Sprong’s usual spot on the left wall.
Tye Kartye up with the big club
If Sprong can’t go, we’re curious to see if Kartye will make his NHL debut in Seattle’s first ever playoff game or if Hakstol will go with the more known quantity in Jesper Froden. Froden has played 14 games with the Kraken this season, and although he hasn’t been a liability for Seattle, he also hasn’t produced much offensively. The 28-year-old winger has four assists and zero goals at the NHL level after notching 25 goals and 22 assists in 44 games in the AHL.
Kartye, meanwhile, is an interesting story. After going undrafted, Seattle signed him as a free agent from the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds. Kartye was invited to Kraken training camp in 2021 and made a good impression, then went back to Sault Ste. Marie for his 20-year-old season and amassed 45 goals and 34 assists in 63 games. That landed him a three-year entry-level deal.
In his first pro season with Coachella Valley, Kartye has caught fire in the second half and blossomed into one of the Firebirds’ best players. He was named the AHL’s rookie of the month for March with 11 goals and six assists in 15 games. With 57 points on the season, Kartye is also strong candidate for rookie of the year in the AHL.
It would be a big ask to thrust a 21-year-old rookie into the Stanley Cup Playoffs without any NHL experience or practice with the Kraken. But if Sprong can’t play, and Hakstol is hoping to keep an offensive punch from his fourth line, Kartye may be seen as a better fit for the role than Froden.
UPDATE: Sprong did skate at morning skate today, according to our good friend, Piper Shaw.
Avalanche are rolling
A month ago, we loved the idea of Seattle playing Colorado in the first round, largely because the Kraken had matched up well with the Avalanche during the season. Seattle went 2-0-1 in its three games against the Avs, and Philipp Grubauer showed good confidence in all three of his outings against his former club.
The most recent win came on March 5, a memorable overtime victory that culminated in a Yanni Gourde breakaway, after Vince Dunn hit him with an exquisite stretch pass.
Things have changed in the last month, though. Seattle got it done against bad teams in the home stretch, but since losing Andre Burakovsky just after the All-Star break, the Kraken have not beaten any playoff teams in regulation.
The Avs, meanwhile, have found their championship mojo that seemed to be missing in the earlier stages of the season. They had a near-perfect 6-0-1 month of April to quickly climb into the top spot in the Central Division, and in their last 10 games, they are 8-1-1. That success came mostly without reigning Norris Trophy winner, Cale Makar, who got injured on April 1. Makar is reportedly ready to go for the playoffs, but it remains to be seen if he will be playing at 100 percent. Meanwhile, Gabriel Landeskog has missed the entire season and has been ruled out for the playoffs.
Still, even with Makar potentially playing through injury and Landeskog out, the Avalanche have elite skill and one of the best players in the world in MacKinnon.
Their top players will get their chances against Seattle. The key for the Kraken will be limiting how dangerous and how plentiful those chances are capitalizing on their own opportunities.