Holy cannoli! They did it! The Seattle Kraken beat the defending champion Colorado Avalanche in a deciding Game 7 on the road, creating a core sports memory that will stick with the team’s fledgling fanbase for decades.
“I think it’s huge for us, for the team, and for our confidence,” said Oliver Bjorkstrand. “As a group, bouncing back from last year, and then for the city of Seattle— you feel the excitement there and how much they want to back us up.”
Philipp Grubauer stood tall to keep the game scoreless in a dominant first period for Colorado, then Seattle turned on the jets in the second. The team’s video coaches came up with a gutsy offside challenge in the third to keep the Kraken ahead, and the team locked things down the rest of the way to skate off with a historic win in their first-ever playoff series.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Yanni Gourde. “I’m so proud of this group. We battled so hard, especially in our second year in this league, just making the playoffs is an accomplishment… Getting the win here in Game 7 shows how much character, how much care we have for one another.”
Here are our Three Takeaways from a momentous 2-1 Kraken win in Game 7 over the Avalanche.
Takeaway #1: What a series by Philipp Grubauer
Philipp Grubauer left us no choice but to start with his outstanding series as our first takeaway. He stepped up and played so well against his old team, with Sunday’s performance serving as the crown jewel in his impressive seven-game set.
“Colorado was great tonight,” said coach Dave Hakstol. “They pushed us in every way you can imagine, and our goaltender was the best player on the ice.”
You could tell from the jump that pucks were going to be hitting Grubauer again Sunday, as a shot hit the knob of his stick in the first period, and he turned away a Grade-A opportunity from the slot by Nathan MacKinnon with nine minutes left in the opening frame. Grubauer joked after the game that the shot that hit the shaft of his stick was off the net, so that one didn’t really matter.
“Sometimes you can’t see it, and it hits you; those are obviously great moments for a goalie,” Grubauer said. “Even Mikko [Rantanen] hit the post there in the second period. Obviously, we love the post; we like that.”
The Kraken got worked over in the first 20 minutes, yet Grubauer stopped all 16 shots fired at him and carried Seattle into the dressing room with a 0-0 tie.
The German Gentleman made another ten-bell save on MacKinnon at the seven-minute mark of the second period, sliding to his right and sealing off the angle just in time before one of the world’s two best players could slip the puck inside in the post.
But it wasn’t just those couple of key saves for the Kraken netminder. There were so many moments where we said to ourselves, Oh, boy, here comes a goal. Yet Grubauer would calmly make the stop and melt it down for a face-off, making dangerous shots from all-world players look harmless. He would get his team a whistle, Seattle would lose the next face-off (the Kraken won just 33 percent of defensive-zone face-offs), and Grubauer would do it over again. Rinse, repeat, all game long.
Grubauer took a lot of heat from Kraken fans last season, as things went sideways. He had a better regular season in 2022-23, but a group still gets on him whenever Seattle loses. This series had to have bought him a lot of goodwill from even the most curmudgeonly of fans, because without Grubauer, Seattle’s season would be over.
“Personally, I don’t know what to say,” Grubauer said. “It means a lot, ending their season and beating the defending Stanley Cup champions. So, lots more to come for our group, but that’s only series one.”
In all, Grubauer had 33 saves in Game 7 and improved to a .926 save percentage in the series.
By the way, we witnessed a heartwarming moment in the dressing room after the game. When Grubauer finished his media availability, he was asked by Kraken social media to take a picture with a stuffed fish, an ongoing bit they’ve been doing. He proudly posed for the photo, then asked if he could keep that fish for his own personal collection. This win was special for him, and he wanted a memento.
Takeaway #2: A heroic night for Oliver Bjorkstrand
Our good friend, Alison Lukan, likes to point out that Oliver Bjorkstrand has a history of rising to the occasion of the big game. He had the clinching goal for the Lake Erie Monsters in the Calder Cup Final in 2016 and for Columbus against Tampa Bay in 2019. He also came through in a big way in Game 7 of this series.
“I’m obviously excited to play those games,” Bjorkstrand said. “You want to give it your best and— I don’t know, I feel like I’ve just kind of been fortunate to have some key moments, and it’s been fun.”
After being held to just two assists and no goals through Game 6, Bjorkstrand played like a man possessed Sunday. He got rewarded with a good bounce off Ben Meyers’ hand, a goal that was initially awarded to Brandon Tanev, to open the scoring at 3:24 of the second period. Four minutes later, Yanni Gourde shoveled a puck around the end boards in the Seattle end to Eeli Tolvanen, who poked it past a pinching Devon Toews at the blue line. That sent Bjorkstrand on a partial breakaway, and he sniped it off the post and in to make it 2-0.
That play, which went from Seattle being on defense to being on the attack in a flash, would ultimately prove to be the game-winner, another notch in Bjorkstrand’s big-game belt. He could have had four more goals in addition to the two he scored in Game 7, as he also hit three posts and got robbed by Alexandar Georgiev off a three-on-one in the third period.
That line with Gourde, Tolvanen, and Bjorkstrand was so, so good in this game. All series, they were tasked with defending against Nathan MacKinnon and—often—Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar.
“The biggest thing is they never went away,” Hakstol said. “Their confidence never wavered, their compete level never wavered, their willingness to go back and play in that role never changed. Tonight they did a hell of a job.”
In Sunday’s game, the Gourde line had its best effort of the whole series, and its relentless forecheck slowed Colorado’s superstars almost to a halt. The result was that line scoring two goals at five-on-five and allowing zero at the other end.
“[MacKinnon] is an unbelievable player,” Gourde said. “The way he skates up the ice, you’ve got to respect that every time he takes a stride, he’s taking five feet off of you. It’s crazy, but we defended as a unit of five. Everyone knew where he was; we had a little bit of a game plan against him that we executed.”
Takeaway #3: A video challenge for the ages
MacKinnon and Rantanen did break through once on the only power play of the game for either team, and that goal came with just 28 seconds left in the second period. It put the Avs back within one goal of Seattle heading to the third and gave life to the home fans.
You could sense a second goal coming for Colorado to even the score, and the Avs appeared to have gotten it at 3:37 of the third when MacKinnon blasted a one-timer from the top of the slot that beat Grubauer.
Have no fear, Kraken fans; video analysts Tim Ohashi and Brady Morgan were there!
“They nailed it,” Hakstol said. “That is not an easy task.”
Just when we thought the lead had slipped away, the officials announced Seattle was challenging for offside. Ohashi and Morgan noticed Artturi Lehkonen entered Seattle’s zone about a foot ahead of the puck 17 seconds earlier. That negated the goal, sending the Ball Arena crowd into a frenzy.
It was the second successful offside challenge in as many games for the Kraken, and it was such a bold call. If they had gotten that wrong, the game would have been tied, and the Kraken would have been back on the penalty kill.
Hakstol said the video team had communicated to the bench even before the shot that they had flagged it for possible offside. When the time came to challenge, they expressed full confidence to Hakstol that the goal would be overturned.
“Oh, I knew before he scored it was offside,” Grubauer quipped with a side-eyed glance to show that he—in fact—had no idea it was offside. “No, that’s obviously a huge turning point in the game, right? If they tied it up, it’s 2-2, it’s maybe a different game.”
Seattle did a great job locking things down the rest of the way, relieving some of the pressure off Grubauer and only allowing six shots in the final frame.
Let’s go start a whole new series in Dallas, shall we? From Denver, the Kraken planned to hop on their plane Monday and—instead of flying home—heading south to the Lone Star State, where they now set their sights on the Dallas Stars.