Saturday’s Game 6 between the Kraken and Stars was another “pinch me” moment in a series of too-good-to-be-true experiences for Seattle’s budding fanbase. With the Kraken pushed to the brink of elimination, they shoved their way off the ledge with a high-flying (though sometimes imperfect) 6-3 win to force another Game 7.
“I love the way our team handled today,” said coach Dave Hakstol. “We knew what was on the line… We as a staff didn’t have to say a whole lot.”
Climate Pledge Arena was rocking all afternoon, and the 17,151 screaming fans went home happy, as their beloved team lived to fight another day.
Here are our Three Takeaways from another unforgettable Kraken playoff win.
Takeaway #1: The kids are alright
A trio of young heroes—all still unable to rent a car because of their age—emerged to help the Kraken win Game 6. Rookies Tye Kartye and Matty Beniers each scored, and 24-year-old waiver claim Eeli Tolvanen had three points to lead the way for Seattle.
These guys have been such interesting stories. The undrafted Kartye was playing junior hockey last season, signed a free-agent contract with the Kraken in the offseason, and surprised everyone by becoming the AHL Rookie of the Year in Coachella Valley. He only got called up after Jared McCann got hurt in Round 1, and he has done so well on the line with Beniers and Jordan Eberle that even Saturday, when Hakstol shuffled McCann back into the top six, Kartye kept his spot on the top line.
Kartye’s goal demonstrated one of the 22-year-old forward’s best assets, a hard and deceptive shot that he can get off even when he doesn’t seem to be in a great shooting posture. Off a three-on-two rush with Eberle and Beniers, Kartye elected to pull the puck into his feet and shoot, surprising Jake Oettinger and putting him on the bench after the Stars netminder had allowed his fourth goal.
“That goal from Karts, looking off Ebs on the other side, I love it,” said Yanni Gourde, who had a big day himself. And that’s not the first time in these playoffs Kartye has done that exact same thing to score a goal.
Meanwhile, Beniers, the No. 2 overall pick in last season’s draft, is the favorite to win the Calder Trophy as a 20-year-old. He helped create his fellow rookie’s goal by passing it off to him and then driving hard to the net. He also scored a beauty in the third period that should have been the dagger, if it weren’t for Seattle’s propensity for allowing response goals.
Moments after the Kraken had completed a crucial penalty kill, Carson Soucy painfully blocked a Ty Dellandrea shot, and the puck caromed to Jaden Schwartz. Schwartz sprung Eberle and Beniers on a two-on-one the other way. Eberle made a perfect pass to Beniers, and Beniers showed his finishing ability, making it 5-2. The two rookies now have three goals each in the playoffs.
Tolvanen, meanwhile, has remained one of the most fascinating storylines since he arrived in Seattle. Placed on waivers by the Predators in December, then scratched for his first two weeks as a Kraken, he finally played his first game with the club on Jan. 1. He hasn’t left the lineup since and has become a staple on the line with Gourde and Oliver Bjorkstrand.
Tolvanen finished a beautiful passing play to make it 3-1 in the second period, after Gourde buttonhooked and found a trailing Bjorkstrand. Bjorkstrand then served it up to Tolvanen, who rifled it into a yawning cage from a bad angle.
Let’s not forget Tolvanen also created Gourde’s opening goal by dropping the puck back and hustling to the crease and also Eberle’s power-play goal with a blast off the far pad.
What has Hakstol’s messaging to that trio of youngsters been? “Keep playing, fellas. Just keep playing,” Hakstol said. “They’re playing their tails off, they’re playing with a lot of confidence.”
Takeaway #2: The power play looked awesome in Game 6
While the depth of the Kraken has been their biggest strength all season, another key to their success has been their ability to adjust and improve in areas of weakness. The power play has not been good in this postseason, clicking at just 14.7 percent and contributing just five total goals, including Eberle’s tally Saturday.
This was an area of noticeable improvement in Game 6, though. We thought the power play units showed glimpses of improvement in Game 5, but they took a big step Saturday and were downright dynamic, even when they didn’t score.
“We were pretty simple,” said Hakstol. “We won face-offs… Let’s just start with puck battles, and that’s a puck battle, right? So, you start with the puck. We were looking not just to get set up and stay on the outside, we were looking to get into an attack mode with that mentality, but the first power play really set the tone for us.”
They did keep it simple and seemed to be focused on getting shots through to the Dallas net, but they also had more player movement in the zone than we’ve seen all postseason, and McCann looked like his old self, rifling dangerous shots from the top of the left circle.
“Honestly, we needed that, and our guys went out there and they did the job,” said Gourde. “They were amazing. They shot the puck and that’s what you need to break things down a little bit, shot volume, and then eventually you find your place inside and Ebs was able to find the back of the net there.”
Another thing that stood out was the way Seattle carried the puck through the neutral zone to create clean zone entries. They have always used the “slingshot” play, where one guy starts up ice, and as soon as he meets pressure, he does a deep drop pass for the next guy. We didn’t see the drop passes Saturday, as Kraken players instead just took whatever lane was given to them and sliced their way through the Stars’ neutral zone forecheck.
It was an interesting little tweak that seemed to work wonders. The funny thing about it is it’s a change to how they did things even in the game before, yet Seattle didn’t practice—not even a morning skate—between the two games. So, they successfully changed a tactic without ever trying it out on the ice.
Takeaway #3: Overcoming letdowns
Game 6 was a thrilling contest and an impressive performance by the Kraken, who knew coming in their backs were against the wall. They came out flying in the first period and rode another second-period outburst to a 6-3 win that staved off elimination.
But it was far from perfect for Seattle, which gave up response goals on THREE separate occasions in this game. Mason Marchment scored 31 seconds after Gourde’s icebreaker, Joe Pavelski scored on the power play 1:14 after Kartye made it 4-1, and Joel Kiviranta got Dallas back within two just 15 seconds after Beniers thought he had the dagger.
Plus, the opening of the third period was downright sloppy. Considering the situation, the Kraken were way too stretched out to open the final frame, and the Stars got some golden opportunities as a result. Just 30 seconds in, Pavelski and Miro Heiskanen had a two-on-one opportunity. Pavelski hit the post, the puck skittered to Heiskanen and hit off him, then slid behind Grubauer and out the other side. Two minutes after that, Jason Robertson also hit the post off a rush.
It was almost as if the Kraken were so hellbent on not sitting back in the third period that they overcorrected toward playing on their toes and almost threw the game away.
To their credit, they used the lucky breaks to right the ship and ended up with a convincing victory.
“[We took] a breather,” said Gourde. “I think we had a whistle in the D-zone, there was a face-off, and we needed one shift in the O-zone. We went down there, took a shot, and then from there, we were like, ‘Ok, let’s reset.'”
After that game, the fans may need a breather too, but there’s no time! Bullets dodged, Game 6 won. Let’s go play another Game 7 on Monday, shall we?