As the Seattle Kraken prepare for their second-round series against the Dallas Stars, it seems like a great time to acknowledge some of the players that got them there. Their series win over the Colorado Avalanche was historic for many reasons, but it also was a statement to those who underestimated them.
It was a stunning effort from the group, culminating in a hard-fought Game 7 victory that sent the reigning Stanley Cup champions packing. As it has been for much of the season, the series was full of outstanding performances throughout the entire lineup. It isn’t just up to the top lines with the Kraken, but instead, a coordinated group effort that works to create mismatches for their opponents. That being said, team effort or not, certain players stood out above the rest.
Having two Stanley Cups under his belt was a big reason why Yanni Gourde was key to any potential playoff success for the Kraken. He was tasked with matching up against Nathan MacKinnon, which ended up forcing Gourde to play an average of over 20 minutes per game. That ranked first among Kraken forwards and fourth on the team behind three defensemen.
In addition to his tough matchup, Gourde also led the team in points during the first round, tallying one goal and six points. It was everything the Kraken needed when they were up against the adversity of being the underdog. With Gourde being one of the many players who chipped in offensively, it was a perfect example of what made the Kraken successful this season, their ability to rely on someone to step up when they needed it most.
We’ll get to one of Gourde’s linemates later, but the supposed “third line” of the Kraken ended up being deployed like a top line and it paid off. Whether it was the experience or just ice in his veins, Gourde was key to securing victory in the Kraken’s first-ever playoff series.
To put it lightly, Philipp Grubauer‘s path to success for the Kraken hasn’t been a straightforward one. That being said, he put all of that behind him and became the anchor for the team as they battled the Avalanche. His success is probably the biggest reason the Kraken are still standing.
Grubauer stepped up at the perfect moment, playing out of his mind for nearly the whole series. Statistically, his .926 save percentage ranks fifth among playoff goaltenders with at least four starts. Additionally, his 3.7 goals saved above expected is ranked third behind Igor Shesterkin of the New York Rangers and Ilya Sorokin of the New York Islanders (Moneypuck). If you didn’t already notice, Grubauer is the only one of those three goaltenders still standing in the postseason.
This stretch of games from Grubauer is exactly why the Kraken trusted him to be the franchise’s goaltender. There’s a lot of talk about sample size, but really, who’s to say he doesn’t keep riding this wave of confidence into the second round? His Game 7 was outstanding, and that momentum could very well carry over because of the short turnaround. Well, regardless of what happens, Grubauer was a major reason why the Kraken are getting ready for their next series.
As if it wasn’t mentioned enough already, the depth of the Kraken came up huge again. This time, it was on the back end and came in the form of Justin Schultz. Schultz, who plays on the third pairing and on the top power play, stepped up offensively, recording five points in the seven-game series.
A veteran of 74 career playoff games, Schultz is no stranger to the bright lights of an exciting series. His point production was a welcome addition to an already potent Kraken attack. In the first round, Schultz recorded five points in seven games, which is tied for ninth in playoff scoring among defensemen.
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Like many others, Schultz stepped up when they needed it. The top pairing of Adam Larsson and Vince Dunn was held to just three combined points, and no other Kraken defensemen had more than two. He wasn’t necessarily on everyone’s radar in terms of impact players before this series, but he showed that he has more to give than I think many people give him credit for.
When teams reach Game 7, it often comes down to players making the key plays to put their team in front. For the Kraken, their Game 7 spark came from Oliver Bjorkstrand. With two goals in the game, he propelled the team to victory and moved them onto the second round.
While his two goals were enough to help the Kraken send the Avalanche packing, Bjorkstrand could have had five if he had been just a bit luckier. With multiple posts hit, he was clearly buzzing as he continued to press for the hat trick goal. While he didn’t end up putting the puck in the net for a third goal, he was still the most noticeable forward on the ice.
While his standout performance came late in the series, it was still the most important time for him to stand out. He’ll now look to carry over his momentum to what is sure to be a difficult series against the Stars. He showed in the regular season that he has the potential to have an elite impact, and we saw it in Game 7. If Bjorkstrand becomes a force early, expect the Kraken to benefit greatly from his performance.
The series victory over the Avalanche represented a historic turn for the Kraken, as they put the league on notice by showing they are not to be underestimated. Now, these four players can have another shot at giving the Kraken a chance to keep this wonderful season going as long as possible. Will they be the ones to step up again? Or will we see new faces assert themselves as impact players? That’s the beauty of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as we never know who will play the hero.