And just like that, the Kraken trail in their first Stanley Cup Playoff series, 2-1 against the Colorado Avalanche. After a close-to-perfect first game in Colorado, things have since started to slide for Seattle, which did not have answers for superstars Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, and Mikko Rantanen in Game 3 Saturday.
There was plenty of excitement in Seattle’s first-ever home playoff game, especially when the Kraken erased a two-goal deficit in the second period, but they couldn’t keep up with the Avs’ studs in the third.
“They capitalized on their chances,” said Matty Beniers. “They’re a fast team, and that’s what they did. We’ve just got to be a little bit more sound defensively.”
Here are our Three Takeaways from a 6-4 Game 3 Kraken loss to the Avalanche.
Takeaway #1: Colorado’s big guns were too much
The key to this series for the Kraken has always been minimizing the damage done by Nos. 8, 29, and 96 on the Avalanche. Seattle did a good job of that in the first two games, allowing just one goal by Rantanen, assisted by MacKinnon, in Game 1 and just an assist by Makar in Game 2.
Game 3 was a different story completely, though, as the trio of superstars combined for five goals on the night.
“We know the level of players they are,” said coach Dave Hakstol. “Those guys are world-class players. We gave them too much time and space. [It was] a little too easy tonight, right?”
What’s concerning from a Seattle perspective is that in the first two games, Makar didn’t look all that dangerous, save for his assist on Artturi Lehkonen’s goal in Game 2. Remember, he’s coming off an injury that kept him out the last two weeks of the regular season, and on Saturday, he looked like he was back to his Norris Trophy-winning self for the first time in the series.
Aside from the heat-seeking missile he launched past Philipp Grubauer in the second period—right off a clean face-off win by Alex Newhook—there were several times in the game when Makar walked the blue line and dipped around Kraken players. He was deking Kraken players out of their jocks in ways only he can, but also in ways that we didn’t see from him in Games 1 and 2.
Meanwhile, MacKinnon was the all-world player we’ve expected him to be in Game 3. We’ve said before that in two years of watching every team visit Climate Pledge Arena, there are only two players that truly scare us when they get the puck: Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon. MacKinnon looked extra scary Saturday.
With the game tied 1-1 and the teams skating four-on-four, Vince Dunn jumped up at an inopportune moment, putting himself in no-man’s land. That left a footrace between MacKinnon and Adam Larsson, and—sorry, Big Cat—MacKinnon is going to win that one 100 percent of the time. It was a big goal for Colorado at a big moment in the game, with the first period winding down.
“We dive in on a four-on-four when 29 is on the ice,” said Hakstol. “I mean, that’s something we can’t do.” That’s about as directly as Hakstol will publicly call out a player for mistakes, and he is talking about Dunn there, who we thought had a rough Game 3 with that play, plus multiple ugly turnovers.
MacKinnon followed that up with a highlight-reel goal in the third period to put the game away at 5-3. He took a pass just inside the Kraken blue line, made Ryan Donato look like a traffic cone, and rifled a perfect shot over Grubauer’s shoulder.
There’s no magic formula for stopping those players, but you have to have a heightened awareness every time they’re on the ice, and as Hakstol said, “We’ve got to do better job as a group on those guys.”
Takeaway #2: The boys battled, then fizzled
When Makar made it 3-1 at 4:33 of the second, and for the next eight minutes, it felt like the game was teetering on the brink of going very sideways for the Kraken. The air had been sucked out of the building, and there wasn’t much happening offensively for Seattle.
But then, lightning struck… and struck again. The offensive dynamo that is Jamie Oleksiak scored one of the prettier goals of the entire season to put the Kraken back within a goal. Yanni Gourde passed it to him through the seam. He stickhandled from forehand to backhand to beat Rantanen, then stayed on his backhand and used his long reach to shoot it around Alexandar Georgiev.
Just 19 seconds later, Beniers scored his first career playoff goal, after some hard work down low by Jordan Eberle, Beniers, and Jared McCann. After cycling it through all three forwards, McCann finally found Beniers in the slot for a quick snapper.
That very much brought the air back into Climate Pledge Arena, where the home crowd erupted after the tying goal.
Going to the dressing room tied 3-3, it seemed like Seattle was marching toward an exciting third-period victory. Instead, Rantanen scored three minutes into the third, and MacKinnon threw the dagger a minute and a half later. At that point, it was officially a track meet, and Seattle doesn’t have enough firepower to outrun the high-flying Avs.
Takeaway #3: Awesome atmosphere
While the outcome was not what Kraken fans wanted, it was an unforgettable night at Climate Pledge Arena, the first home playoff game in the history of the franchise. The crowd was raucous in the early going, after gathering on the plazas around the arena hours in advance of puck drop. And although they got quiet for a bit in the second period and again in the third when things got out of reach, the din after Beniers tied the game in the second was downright deafening.
“Loved the atmosphere, loved the building,” said Hakstol. “The fans, the feel of the building, it was a playoff feel. That’s what it is.”
It would be swell to see the Kraken win a game (or two?) at home in this series, because there were awesome moments Saturday in a losing effort. We can only imagine how that building would be in a win.
The team still believes it can do it. “We knew it was going to be a long series,” said Jaden Schwartz, who had two goals Saturday. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We’ve got a lot of faith in our game, a lot of belief in each other. We’ve just got to regroup and get ready for the next one.”
Adding to the atmosphere Saturday was the very touching pre-game tribute to our pal, Andy Eide. The Kraken organization held a spot for Andy in the press bridge, where they placed a bouquet of flowers and his customary reporting cap next to a placard with his name on it. They showed images of Andy on the scoreboards, asked fans in attendance to turn on their cell phone flashlights for added ambience, and dedicated their first home playoff game to Andy. We were deeply moved by the salute.
We asked Hakstol Sunday morning about his experiences working with Andy, and he said: “I definitely thought about him throughout the day [Saturday]. He was a gentleman of the press, a true gentleman, but also just a huge fan of the game of hockey. And that rang true every time you were around Andy.”
I’m making a rare switch to the first-person point of view for one more Andy anecdote to close out this lengthy Three Takeaways.
As I’ve gone through various stages of grief over the past week and change, I’ve gotten to a pretty good place mentally. I’m comfortable talking about Andy, thinking about Andy, and I’m generally in good spirits. But every now and then, I get this really intense sense of déjà vu, and I feel like Andy is right there next to me. Those are the moments that choke me up and quickly bring me to tears, as I snap back to the reality of him no longer being around.
I felt that in the second period Saturday. As the thunderous tumult built in the arena after Beniers’ goal, I got goosebumps on my arms, and the only thing I could say to the person next to me was, “Wow.”
That moment transported me back to the Kraken’s first pre-season game last season, the one they played in Spokane against the Canucks. I sat next to Andy for that game, and when it started, there was a similar feeling of hairs going up on my arms with the roar of the crowd. I remember Andy looking at me, and saying, “Wow! I just got goosebumps!” And me looking back at him and shouting, “So did I!” over the roar.
Somehow, the two moments crossed in my brain Saturday, and I felt Andy’s presence as strongly as I have in this whole difficult journey. While Andy wasn’t physically in the building Saturday, I think it’s quite safe to say his spirt was there; I know I sure felt it.