What a way for the Seattle Kraken to welcome their fans to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time, pulling off a huge 3-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche. The Kraken got off to a hot start, bent but didn’t break, and took advantage of an excellent 34-save performance by Philipp Grubauer to earn their first postseason victory.
We said in our Game 1 Preview the Kraken would need four close-to-perfect performances in this series to get by the Avs. Their Game 1 was pretty darn close to perfect.
“It’s playoffs, it’s a lot of fun,” said Alex Wennberg. “It’s a different game, but right now, I mean obviously we’re happy with this. We’re still going to look at it, see what we can do better, but I mean there’s a lot of good things here.”
Here are our Three Takeaways from an unforgettable opening foray into the playoffs, a 3-1 Kraken win over the Avalanche.
Takeaway #1: Fast start and team defense lead to success
Seattle’s players jumped out of the blocks fast, getting themselves quickly engaged with physical play and hard forechecks. Just 3:26 into the game, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Yanni Gourde closed in on Devon Toews behind Colorado’s net. Toews panicked and coughed the puck up to Eeli Tolvanen, who shot, got his own rebound, and scored the first goal of the series.
It was that same line of Tolvanen, Gourde, and Bjorkstrand that was tasked with shutting down Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, and they mostly succeeded on this night. The lone goal against came after an icing, when coach Dave Hakstol couldn’t get the full group out there, and MacKinnon found Rantanen at the goalmouth soon after the face-off.
Still, the plan against a team like this—one that has so much high-end skill at the top of its lineup—should be to minimize the damage of those elite players.
“We’ve just got to clog the middle of the ice and make sure they take their chances from the outside,” said Gourde. “[We did] our best to manage the play, but I think overall we did a pretty good job tonight.”
One goal against from Rantanen and nothing from the rest of the roster is a pretty darn good night.
Takeaway #2: Sound Of Hockey bump for Alex Wennberg?
We talked to Alex Wennberg for the latest Sound Of Hockey Podcast, and he went out Tuesday and scored a goal and an assist to lift the Kraken to a historic win. Coincidence? Most certainly yes.
BUT… It was an exceptional performance by Wennberg, nonetheless. The Gourde line opened the scoring and then babysat MacKinnon and Rantanen the rest of the game. Wennberg and his linemates took care of the other offensive duties, showing yet again why this Kraken team is dangerous.
Early in the second period, with the score tied 1-1, Jamie Oleksiak sent a quick-up pass to Jaden Schwartz at the far blue line. Morgan Geekie drove toward the net and took Bowen Byram out of the play. Schwartz laid a perfect pass into the wheelhouse for Wennberg, who caught it and shot it in one motion, beating a clumsy-looking Alexandar Georgiev.
“It’s a great play by Schwartz right there,” said Wennberg. “I think we moved the puck up— I mean, obviously in the playoffs like this, you’ve got to take advantage of the opportunities. For me, I was just trying to shoot the puck, and I got rewarded. It’s great to help the team out, for sure.”
Wennberg wasn’t done there. In the third period, with Seattle holding a one-goal lead, it was that same forward line that effectively put the game away, and Wennberg was again a key factor. Justin Schultz rimmed the puck deep, and it looked like it was going to be turned over to Josh Manson. But Wennberg got in on the forecheck and took it right back, then quickly spun it out to Geekie in front. Geekie rifled it past Georgiev and made it 3-1.
You never know which forward trio is going to carry the mail on a given night for the Kraken. The Jared McCann/Matty Beniers/Jordan Eberle line was held off the scoresheet in this game, but it didn’t matter, because the Wennberg line was cooking.
You know what? Now that we think about it, the Wennberg success probably was because he did a podcast interview with us this week.
Takeaway #3: Philipp Grubauer loves playing against the Avalanche
There really is something about Philipp Grubauer playing against his former team. He was outstanding again Tuesday, stopping 34 shots, including several Grade-A opportunities in the second and third periods.
Just watching Grubauer play, you could tell he was confident and tracking the puck well from the jump. We’ve heard him say in the past that “sometimes the puck just hits you,” and Tuesday was one of those nights when—even if it looked like a sure goal—the puck would either find a way to hit him or deflect up and over the net.
“He did a great job today,” said Wennberg. “He’s making some big saves to keep us in the game, and I mean that’s what we need right now. So we’re really happy with him.”
For the Kraken to get through even one round of the playoffs, they need Grubauer to be on top of his game. He was excellent Tuesday in a contest he may be able to use as a jumping-off point for a successful run.
In four appearances against Colorado this season, Grubauer now has a .942 save percentage.