It wasn’t easy, but the Kraken did the damn thing Wednesday, earning a hard-fought, well-played, 60-minute, total-team victory, 3-2 over the Avalanche. Every player in the lineup, including just-called-up Tye Kartye, contributed to the win in some way.
The closing minutes pushed Kraken fans’ heart rates to unthinkable levels, as Colorado pulled within one goal with Alexandar Georgiev on the bench and skated six-on-five for what felt like an eternity. But the Kraken stayed with their structure, continued blocking shots, and regained the series lead 3-2.
Here are our Three Takeaways from another thrilling Kraken win over the Avalanche in Game 5.
Takeaway #1: The legend of Tye Kartye is born
After Jared McCann was ruled out of Game 5, speculation quickly began about how the Kraken would try to replace their irreplaceable 40-goal scorer in the lineup. We knew a call-up was coming from Coachella Valley, and the team had briefly brought up Tye Kartye and Max McCormick at different times during this series.
In the end it was Kartye who got the call, which didn’t totally surprise us. Then, he was slotted into McCann’s spot at morning skate, alongside Matty Beniers and Jordan Eberle. That also didn’t surprise us, because in Game 3, when Morgan Geekie was unavailable due to the birth of his child, Jesper Froden looked like he was preparing to play in Geekie’s spot on the Alex Wennberg line. That night, Froden only played a handful of minutes, though, and with different line combinations, so we figured something similar was in store for Kartye in Game 5.
Well, mostly wrong. While Kartye’s minutes did get throttled back toward the end of the game, coach Dave Hakstol used him in a top-six winger role for a lot of the contest. Kartye, with his parents in attendance at Ball Arena, rewarded Hakstol for the gutsy lineup decision by scoring his first NHL goal on his first NHL shot in his first NHL game. Did we mention this was also in Game 5 of a Stanley Cup Playoff game?
Kartye’s parents, by the way, dropped everything and made the two-and-a-half-hour drive from Kingston, ON, to Toronto, then jumped on the first flight to Denver to see their son make his NHL debut. They showed up a couple minutes late but were there in time to see their son’s magical moment.
“Great night for Tye,” said Hakstol with a smile. “We were able to get his parents in here. It’s quite a way to start your NHL career, jumping into Game 5 in the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.” The Kraken coach raved about Kartye’s poise and apparent comfort with the situation and said those were factors in the team’s decision-making process about how to use him. “He’s ready to be here, and that’s why we felt comfortable putting him in.”
Kartye’s story over the last two seasons, leading up to his Wednesday heroics, would seem almost far-fetched if it weren’t true. Playing his junior hockey with the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds, he did not get drafted by an NHL team. He came to Kraken training camp as an invitee before the team’s inaugural season, impressed the brass there, had a solid 20-year-old season back in Sault Ste. Marie, and got signed by Seattle as a free agent. He then went to Coachella Valley for his first pro season and caught fire in the second half, ending up with 28 goals and 29 assists on the year and taking the AHL Rookie of the Year award.
“A year ago, a year and a half ago, this was my wildest dream,” said Kartye. “So, this day has been pretty special.”
The fact that the Kraken threw him right into his first NHL game in that spot, on that line, and that he delivered is truly remarkable.
“It’s pretty crazy,” added Kartye. “It was a whirlwind, but I’ve been working hard for a long time, and it feels pretty good.”
His goal was a banger, too. After Nathan MacKinnon and Will Borgen touched skate blades in the Kraken end, and while MacKinnon was busy blowing a gasket complaining to the referee about being tripped, the play came back the other way. Jordan Eberle carried the puck through the neutral zone, deep into the offensive zone, and circled the wagons before sliding a pass into Kartye’s wheelhouse. Kartye wasted no time in showing off his best offensive asset, a lethal shot that was off his blade and in the back of the net in an instant.
“I was just kind of driving to the net, and I saw he had the puck and tried to get open,” said Kartye. “Obviously, he made a pretty special pass there.”
The goal made it 2-1 and improved Kartye’s NHL shooting percentage to 100 percent.
People will remember the goal Kartye scored, but he was generally impressive on this night. He looked like he belonged in the NHL and even on a top-six line.
“[The goal] was awesome, but he was all over the place,” said Gourde. “He was in everyone’s grill, he was on the forecheck, on the backcheck, he was great in the D-zone, he finished every hit he had.”
Takeaway #2: Kraken are who we thought they were
With Kartye and Gourde scoring Wednesday, they became the 12th and 13th Kraken players to register goals in the five games of this series. That’s nothing new; depth scoring has been the story of this team all season. But aside from that, they’ve shown why we believed they would be a tough match for the defending Stanley Cup champions.
The Kraken play with good enough defensive structure to at least slow down Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and (when he’s not suspended) Cale Makar. They also go the extra mile to block shots, win battles low in the offensive zone, and—as of the beginning of the calendar year—kill penalties. When they are on their game, they truly can skate with any team in this league, something they proved throughout the regular season.
Game 5 was no different. Seattle got huge, timely shot blocks from guys like Matty Beniers, Jamie Oleksiak, and Jaden Schwartz, and the only goals they allowed were off a rim attempt by Philipp Grubauer that didn’t quite make it past Rantanen and off a bad-luck double deflection from two Kraken players at six-on-five.
“When you get to this time of year, the stage is a little bigger, it’s a little brighter, there’s a little bit more on the line, and everything means a little bit more,” said Hakstol. “But you still have to fall back on who you are.”
Wennberg was especially good Wednesday, his second starring performance of the series. In this one, he created the icebreaking goal at 6:35 of the second period by winning the race to a dumped-in puck, fighting off a Bowen Byram check, and making a perfect pass to Schwartz. Schwartz shot, and Papa Geekie cleaned up the rebound.
Then, with a minute left in the second period and the Kraken killing a crucial penalty, Wennberg—who had broken his stick—somehow managed to kick the puck past Byram, control it along the boards with his skates, and boot it again all the way below the Colorado goal line.
There were plenty of gritty, hard-working plays by just about every guy in the Kraken lineup, but Wennberg resorting to his soccer-playing past, doing everything he could to help kill that penalty, really stood out to us.
Takeaway #3: Kraken take a 3-2 lead
We won’t say anything here to jinx it, but it is bonkers that Seattle is even in this position, up 3-2 heading to Game 6 at home on Friday against the champs. Nobody in the greater hockey world gave the Kraken a chance coming in, and they have proven through every step of this series—even in the losses—that they can beat the Avalanche if they play their game.
So far, they’ve gotten contributions from everyone on their roster, and the result has given the group a rare opportunity to surprise everyone.
“That’s the situation you want to be in in a playoff series,” said Gourde, a grizzled veteran of the postseason. “You want to be up, but we all know in this league the fourth game is the hardest one to win, and it’s going to take everything out of everyone in this locker room to get that one.”
After experiencing the atmosphere in Game 4 on Monday, we truly cannot wait for Friday night at Climate Pledge Arena.