Just two games into Seattle’s first Stanley Cup Playoff journey, the team’s fledgling fanbase has already experienced the roller coaster of emotions that comes with the postseason. Entering Game 2 with an unexpected 1-0 series lead over the Avalanche, the Kraken again surprised by coming out of the gate like gangbusters, only to fade in the later stages of the contest.
Philipp Grubauer had another stellar outing with 38 saves, and Justin Schultz and Brandon Tanev put the Kraken ahead in the early going. But the Avalanche battled back in the second and third periods, getting goals from Artturi Lehkonen, Valeri Nichushkin, and Devon Toews to even the series 1-1.
Here are our Three Takeaways from a disappointing—but also still encouraging—3-2 Kraken loss to the Avalanche.
Takeaway #1: A hot start by the Kraken
Oh, what could have been. That’s why this one stings; the Kraken left the first period with a 2-0 lead and mostly dominated the opening frame. They put themselves in position to win, and in fact, a chorus of boos rained down on the defending champion Avs as they skated off at the first horn.
The Kraken—led by Yanni Gourde—were flying in the first 20 minutes and taking it to the Avalanche.
Gourde made two outstanding plays that directly led to goals. The first came just two and a half minutes into the game. Deep in Seattle’s zone, Oliver Bjorkstrand rimmed a puck around to Gourde. In one fluid motion, the “Pepperpot” spun out of a Darren Helm check and slipped the puck past a pinching Devon Toews just inside the blue line. In about a second worth of work, Gourde made two Avalanche players look silly, and the area pass up the wall was skated into by Eeli Tolvanen. Tolvanen raced ahead and set Justin Schultz up for a pretty goal from the slot.
10 minutes later, with the Kraken killing a penalty, Gourde showed off his forechecking skills and outfoxed not one, not two, but three Avalanche players, including Nathan MacKinnon. As all three defenders closed in around him, Gourde poked the puck to a crashing Brandon Tanev. Tanev had all day to pick his spot and beat Alexandar Georgiev.
Tanev celebrated his goal with the kiss heard around the world.
“I liked our start, obviously,” said Gourde. “To go up 2-0 against that group over there, it’s good; it’s really good. We were in a great spot after the first period.”
It was about as good of a period as we could have imagined (it would have been even better if Morgan Geekie’s early shot off the post had gone in), but the Kraken took their tentacle off the gas in the second, and the Avalanche took advantage.
Takeaway #2: The Avs found momentum in the second
Perhaps the boos from the Ball Arena faithful woke up the Avalanche players when they started the second period. They did look a lot better, and once Lehkonen tipped home a Cale Makar shot, the building came alive. So too did the Avs, and they added a nifty quick-strike goal just 48 seconds later when Evan Rodrigues connected with a streaking Nichushkin, who scored off a partial breakaway.
“We were obviously happy with the first period,” said coach Dave Hakstol. “Coming out [in the second], you know they’re going to have a push, and they did. Their second period, the first ten minutes, they were on the gas, and they had some real good opportunities and tied the game up.”
Seattle’s two-goal lead evaporated in an instant, and for the first time in the series, it felt like the Kraken were getting railroaded by the high-flying Avalanche.
“They are so talented,” said Gourde. “They’ve been in this situation before, they’re a great team, and we knew they were going to push, but for part of that second period, we didn’t really have a response. We’ve just got to manage the game a little bit better.”
It was a stark reminder that the Avs are an elite team, and they have the firepower to flip a game on its ear at any moment. Easing off for even a few minutes can cost you a win, something that should serve as a lesson for Seattle as it moves forward in this series.
“I think we just gave their top players some time and space, and when you give time and space to the quality of players that the other team has, they’re going to make plays,” said Tanev. “But at the end of the day, we’re gonna learn from our mistakes here, and we’re excited to get back home and get ready for the next one here.”
The Kraken did stop the bleeding as the second period went on, and they got to the third tied 2-2. But the momentum carried over to the final frame, and Colorado smelled blood in the water, peppering Philipp Grubauer with 31 shots in the last 40 minutes. They broke through one more time when a big rebound landed right on the tape of Toews, who was all alone in the right circle. His goal came at 12:59 of the third, and the Avalanche suffocated Seattle for much of the final seven minutes.
Takeaway #3: The Kraken are still in a good spot
After playoff games like this, it’s hard not to feel like the wind has been sucked out of your sails. But the Kraken have no reason to hang their heads. If you had told us a week ago that Seattle was going to split the first two games on the road, we would have been quite comfortable with that. The Kraken were playing with house money in Game 2, and the perspective only changed because they won first, then lost, instead of vice versa. Had it gone the other way, the fanbase would be riding high right now.
Jamie Oleksiak reminded us this week that the playoffs are filled with ups and downs, and it is unreasonable to expect the team to go 16-0 and win the Stanley Cup with ease. That’s not going to happen for any club, let alone an underdog that has been written off by almost everyone in the hockey world.
Now, it’s a brand new best-of-five series. The teams know each other and what they’re going to bring, and Seattle has proven to itself that it can hang right with the mighty Avs. The Kraken also have home-ice… ahem… “advantage” the rest of the way.
We said that last part cheekily because it’s no secret the Kraken haven’t been as good at home this season as on the road, but we cannot stress enough just how incredible the atmosphere is going to be Saturday at Climate Pledge Arena.
“It’s gonna be great in our building,” said Gourde. “First playoff game in our building, so it’s going to be awesome. I’m super excited.”
Added Hakstol, “I hope the fans are fired up for it, because we will be.”
The boys are heading home with a tied series against the Cup champs.