Oh, what could have been for the Kraken in Game 6 against the Avalanche. We couldn’t help imagining Seattle closing out the Stanley Cup champions on home ice and thinking of the chaos it would have created in and around Climate Pledge Arena. Alas, the Avalanche—with their backs against the wall—dominated the second period and cruised through to a 4-1 win.
“They played desperate tonight,” said Vince Dunn. “They were good with the puck, and I think we let them come at us a little bit too much. We were not good enough as a whole, slowing them down on our forecheck, and when you give them space and time, they’re going to make their plays.”
The Kraken loss forces a Game 7 in hostile territory on Sunday, a game that could live on in either lore or infamy, depending on the outcome.
Here are our Three Takeaways from a disappointing Game 6 Kraken loss to the Avalanche.
Takeaway #1: Avs did their damage in the second period
The Kraken got out to a decent enough start in the first period, weathering an early push from the Avalanche and getting aided by a successful offside challenge to negate a Bowen Byram goal. That would have been the first time in the series that Colorado got on the board first, but instead, Dunn scored at 15:48 to give Seattle a 1-0 lead.
If Seattle could have gotten to the dressing room up 1-0, we thought frustration would have really set in for the Avalanche. Instead, Mikko Rantanen scored a critical goal in a critical moment, with just 19 seconds left on the clock. You never want to give up a goal in the final minute of a period, and although coach Dave Hakstol said goals don’t carry momentum over from one period to the next, there’s no doubt the late tally changed Colorado’s mentality.
Lo and behold, the Avs came out flying in the second period and looked like the champs again.
“Second period, they tilted the game their direction,” said Hakstol. “They got on top of us with their forecheck, which starts momentum, and we weren’t able to break that enough.”
The Avs outshot Seattle 14-4 in the middle frame and got through on Philipp Grubauer twice, both off deflected shots.
“I thought we were fine after that first period,” said Dunn. “There were some things we could fix, but that’s a team with a lot of high-end skill, and they make a lot of plays. So coming out flat and on our heels in the second, they’re going to make you pay.”
It was no surprise to see Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Cale Makar leading the way, frequently stacked up on the ice at the same time and dominating almost every moment they were out there. MacKinnon was held off the scoresheet officially, but he started the plays that led to all three of Colorado’s goals in the first and second.
MacKinnon’s effort on the Erik Johnson goal that made it 2-1 was especially impressive. Jamie Oleksiak knocked him down in the corner, and from his stomach, MacKinnon somehow kept the puck away from both Oleksiak and Yanni Gourde. He then hustled to the front of the net to screen Grubauer, and just like that, the puck was in the back of the net.
Takeaway #2: Penalties zapped the Kraken
Although Seattle’s penalty kill ended up with a perfect five-for-five night, going shorthanded that many times took its toll on the players. Seattle spent six minutes killing penalties in the second period alone, and every time it had to do that, Avalanche coach Jared Bednar was not shy about sending out Rantanen, MacKinnon, and Makar together.
“We were in the box a lot,” said Jordan Eberle, who took a somewhat controversial boarding call on Andrew Cogliano, sending him dangerously into the boards. “That just creates momentum and then tires us out.”
That top Colorado trio can be flat out overwhelming, and there were power plays in which they held the puck in the Kraken zone for almost the full two minutes Friday. That exhausts the players who are out there killing, but it also has a tendency to get the momentum rolling downhill.
Penalties happen when you’re hemmed in your zone for extended periods, and that definitely occurred on several occasions Friday. The Avs were flying around, and the result was Seattle dragging them down.
“You start defending, and you end up in that [second] period killing six minutes in penalties,” said Hakstol. “Now you’re coming off of that and fighting for energy, and fighting to turn around the momentum at the same time, and we weren’t able to do that in that second period.”
The icing on the penalty-filled cake came late in the third, when the Kraken were desperately trying to get back in the game, only to see Gourde slash Makar’s stick out of his hands with four minutes left.
The Kraken need to stay on their toes for more of Game 7 to avoid getting themselves into similar penalty trouble. Another night with lots of trips to the box will spell a series loss.
Takeaway #3: A wasted effort for Philipp Grubauer
Grubauer was excellent again in Game 6, stopping 35 of 38 shots. He kept Seattle in the game to the bitter end, and the only goals against came off a rebound that hit him up high, then got passed around him, and two shots that changed directions on the way to the net. He has had a stellar series against his old club and deserved better from his mates in this one.
“[He was] fantastic,” said Dunn. “He’s been great all series, and it’s an unfortunate loss for us, because he definitely made the saves he needed to to keep us in it. I just think if we could fix that second period, we’re in a way different position going into the third.”
Grubauer’s best save of the night came on one of Colorado’s many power plays at the end of the second period. Makar set J.T. Compher up for what looked like a sure goal, an easy tap-in at at the netmouth. But Grubauer got a big push off his left skate and did a full split to get across just in time with his right toe.
It was one of those saves that we tabbed as being a potential turning point, had the Kraken figured out a way to get back in it. But… they did not.
So, the Kraken and Avalanche head to Game 7 in Denver on Sunday, where Seattle will look to get it done the dramatic way. The Kraken will need one more outstanding performance from Grubauer to win the series, and if they get that again, hopefully they won’t waste it.
Disappointing loss. It felt like the Kraken beat themself more than the Avalanche won. Game 7 will help define the franchise. Will they be the ragtag collection of scrappy fighters or an overmatched team that were allowed to hang around by a more talented team.