So close, and yet so far. A good break or a shot that goes in instead of hitting the post, and we may be celebrating today, looking forward to a Western Conference Finals appearance for the Seattle Kraken in their second season. Instead, the Stars are the ones who advanced, winning Game 7 over the Kraken by the thinnest of margins, 2-1.
We were optimistic after an outstanding Game 6 for Seattle at home, which evened the series at 3-3 and pushed Dallas to the brink. But the Kraken just never seemed to reach their typical pace Monday, and their desperate push in the closing minutes was too little, too late.
“We couldn’t find our top gear,” said coach Dave Hakstol. “Give Dallas a lot of credit in that regard. I thought—to a certain degree—they answered the game that we played in Game 6. They came home into their home building and put us under pressure.”
Here are our Three Takeaways from the Kraken’s season-ending Game 7 loss to the Stars.
Takeaway #1: A bad bounce cost the Kraken
For a long time, we really liked how Game 7 was going for the Kraken. After preaching “patience” the last couple days, Seattle seemed perfectly content to weather various Dallas storms and keep the game scoreless for as long as possible.
We felt ourselves waiting for the opportunistic counterstrike to come, as it did in Game 7 of Round 1 against the Avalanche. But Seattle couldn’t seem to find it, and its two best looks—one by Jamie Oleksiak in the second period and one by Oliver Bjorkstrand in the third—both rang off the post.
“Our play with the puck wasn’t as crisp, it wasn’t as quick as it needs to be,” said Hakstol. “And that’s a combination of not getting into some spots quick enough, not moving the puck quick enough under pressure… When you’re not efficient with the puck, and you can’t get up ice, all of a sudden you’re chasing.”
Just when we started to think the Stars were getting frustrated by their inability to break through against Philipp Grubauer, a high flip into the neutral zone took a terrible bounce for Seattle. Oleksiak went back to retrieve the puck just outside the blue line, but as it dropped to the ice, it skipped backward like it had been lofted with a lob wedge. The odd check up caused Oleksiak to overskate the puck ever so slightly.
As Oleksiak reached for the skipping puck, Roope Hintz arrived at just the right moment to strip it and fly in on a breakaway, rifling a shot over Grubauer’s blocker and giving Dallas a 1-0 lead.
The Stars can seemingly only win in the playoffs if they score first, and once they get a lead going into the third, they do not lose. That icebreaking goal came at 15:59 of the second period, and once it was in, you knew a comeback was unlikely.
After Wyatt Johnston scored off an intentional icing play in the third, the game was out of reach, even if a Bjorkstrand goal with 17 seconds left gave Seattle one last glimmer of hope.
The boys were out of gas in this one.
Takeaway #2: What a game for Philipp Grubauer
The most frustrating part of this Game 7 Kraken loss to the Stars was that Philipp Grubauer—after a couple not-as-stellar games in this series—was back to the version of himself that we saw through the first round and the early stages of the second round. If the Kraken could have just limited the one-against-none opportunities, we are convinced Grubi would have gotten them through, as he was doing everything in his power to steal the game.
In all, Grubauer stopped 26 shots with 1.51 goals saved above expected, indicating that although the shot volume wasn’t remarkably high for Dallas, the shot quality was there.
You could tell from the early going that Grubauer was sharp, again being forced to stop a two-on-one rush in the first minute of the game. As the first period went on, and he kicked away all nine of Dallas’s offerings, belief started to grow that even a goal or two for the Kraken would be enough in this game.
Those goals never came, though, and Seattle squandered an outstanding performance by their netminder.
“That’s my job,” said Grubauer. “If there’s a breakdown, you’ve got to make a stop for the guys. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make the stop on the second goal, but we battled back and we got a goal there, and unfortunately we ran out of time.”
Grubauer has had a lot of lows in his two seasons with the Kraken so far, but seeing what he did in these playoffs, when he started all 14 games, gave Kraken fans hope that he can be the guy they thought they were getting before the inaugural season.
Now we know what he can do when the lights are shining their brightest, but can he carry it through a full season in 2023-24?
Takeaway #3: What a run for the Seattle Kraken
For this last Takeaway of the season, we just want to say what a magical run this has been and how much we appreciate you following along and supporting Sound Of Hockey.
“I’m super proud, honestly,” said Yanni Gourde. “We battled super hard all year long, and we built something here this year.”
Yeah, we feel the same, Yanni.
As many of you know, it was a very difficult season for us, as we lost one of our founding members and a pillar of the Seattle hockey community in Andy Eide. We know he would have loved every minute of the playoffs, and seeing the Seattle Thunderbirds (Andy’s true love) simultaneously playing in the WHL Championship Series would have brought him so much joy. We’ve been thinking of our pal through every step of this journey.
As for the playoffs themselves, of course a trip to the Western Conference Finals would have made this run even better, but up through Game 6 of the second round, you couldn’t have scripted it any better for Seattle. We’re hopeful this run has ignited a new level of attachment for fans, both new and old, to the franchise and the sport itself.
“We took a big leap this year,” said Jordan Eberle. “I don’t think anyone expected us to make the playoffs, didn’t expect us to beat Colorado, and I’m sure no one had us to get to [Game] 7 here. So, I think as a group, obviously this is the first time we’ve been through this. You’ve got to learn how to lose first, and then find a way to win.”
The Kraken did the unthinkable by knocking off the defending Stanley Cup champion Avalanche in Round 1, then pushed the Dallas Stars to a deciding Game 7 in Round 2 and came up one goal short. Along the way, they created core memories for folks watching, and as Hakstol said Monday, “This group changed the landscape of hockey in Seattle.”