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During his post-game meeting with the media, coach Dave Hakstol was asked what this series win can do for his squad going into the second round.
“Well, it took a lot of energy out of us, that’s for sure,” said Hakstol, smiling and then getting serious. “It gives the guys their reward, right? Guys can feel good about that. It continues to bolster the confidence of our group even though I don’t know that it’s ever really wavered over the last few months.”
“It gives them that check mark of success in the first playoff series that our franchise has played in. I don’t know if the guys will speak to it or not. But I know the guys, especially the guys that were here last year, will take great pride in that. They take pride in the building blocks they’re putting in place in terms of the franchise and in terms of hockey in Seattle.”
Hakstol said he thinks the best team won in each of the first six games of the series. Sunday night was up for grabs in his mind, with goalie Philipp Grubauer being the X-out-the-Avalanche factor.
“Colorado was great tonight,” who won his first Stanley Cup Playoffs series as an NHL head coach. “They pushed us in every way you can imagine. Our goaltender was the best player on the ice.”
Grubauer’s Big Night
Philipp Grubauer had a huge media scrum at his locker post-game. He’s certainly faced his share of ups and downs with an emphasis on how much he appreciates the Kraken fan base and those “Gruuuuuu” chants he hears regularly.
“Yeah, incredible, it means a lot to the organization and this team,” said Grubauer when asked about making Seattle sports history. “It’s huge. We’ve shown all year we can play with the best and we can beat the best.”
Grubauer paused when asked about what it means to him personally, after being teammates with a majority of Avalanche players before signing as a free agent with Seattle for the inaugural season: “I don’t know what to say. It means a lot. We’re ending their season and beating the defending Stanley Cup champions.”
Bjorkstrand Breaks Through – Twice
The second period here in Denver was all about Oliver Bjorkstrand in the early going. After clanging a shot off the goalpost about three minutes into the middle 20 minutes, Bjorkstrand proceeded to make good by scoring twice in the next five minutes to stake Seattle to a two-goal lead that nearly held up through the second intermission.
Just 44 seconds after hitting the post, Bjorkstrand was winning a puck battle in the corner with defenseman Erik Johnson. The veteran winger spotted forward Brandon Tanev racing to the goal crease on a shift change and moved the puck that way. It deflected off Alex Newhook’s stick then rookie Ben Meyers’ glove, pinballing past Georgiev and never actually touched Tanev, who was originally credited with the goal but later ruled Bjorkstrand’s first goal of these playoffs.
Video: [email protected], Gm7: Bjorkstrand scores a fluky goal in 2nd
Just shy of four minutes later, the Yanni Gourde line was doing what it does best: Converting hustle defense into a scoring chance. After a Colorado shot attempt, Gourde gathered the loose puck and rimmed it up the left side of the Kraken zone. Eeli Tolvanen, who was claimed on waivers for his wicked and elite shot, once more showed his two-way prowess by poke-checking the puck up into the neutral zone, where Bjorkstrand got to it first for a break on Georgiev. He hit iron again but the puck hammered over the goal line to make 2-0 and Bjorkstrand’s second goal of the period and postseason. He also took a share of the goal-scoring lead with Jaden Schwartz and Morgan Geekie while becoming the 15th Kraken player to score a goal in the seven-game series.
Video: [email protected], Gm7: Bjorkstrand scores second goal of game
Bjorkstrand also took a share of the goal-scoring lead with Jaden Schwartz and Morgan Geekie while becoming the 15th Kraken player to score a goal in the seven-game series. He could have easily tallied a hat trick and maybe even four to five goals with all the posts he hit.
“As for hitting the posts, I’ll try not to hit them next time,” said Bjorkstrand, grinning.
Watch: Youtube Video
A late penalty on Vince Dunn turned into a Mikko Rantanen goal, tipping a Nathan MacKinnon one-time past Grubauer to finally solve their ex-teammate. Rantanen collected his seventh goal of playoffs on just the second power-play goal for Colorado in 18 tries. That put the score at 2-1 at the second intermission and Seattle hung on from there.
Seattle Video Coaches Two for Two
Kraken video coaches Tim Ohashi and Brady Morgan earned their salaries and then some in this series. After calling a correct offside call in Game 6, the pair followed up with an apparent Nathan MacKinnon tying goal early third period with a call to the bench that led to disallowing the score because Artturi Lehkonen was clearly a stride or two offsides. The roars of the home crowd turned into derogatory chants for the referees (they technically have nothing to do with it; linesmen call offside and also review the video with the Toronto situation room in their headsets).
Where to start with playing a Game 7 on the road in Denver? There’s a steep challenge in facing the defending champions and their three bonafide superstar players in Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Cale Makar, all of whom were in Sunday’s starting lineup and all heading toward racking up 25-plus minutes of time on ice in this deciding game.
Then mix in a raucous Ball Arena crowd that lived up to its billing as one of the louder, most knowledgeable crowds in the NHL. Make no mistake, Seattle gets rave reviews from media and players too. The Avalanche faithful were on their game, roaring at every scoring chance for the home team, cheering hard for every hit on Kraken players, and making all attempts to boo “villain” Jordan Eberle when the Kraken forward touched the puck.
After Oliver Bjorkstrand, with help from his linemates and D-man Adam Larsson, quieted the Avs crowd, the mega-decibels revived when MacKinnon and Rantanen teamed up for the late-second-period goal to tighten this affair and no doubt lead to all sorts of nail-biting in the Pacific Northwest.
Philipp Grubauer kept this game scoreless in the first period with 16 saves and poise in some frenzied sequences. Case in point: With nine-and-a-half minutes left in the opening period, Philipp Grubauer made a stellar stop on Makar, then faced down a MacKinnon close-in wrist shot and another Makar attempt in the ensuing 30 seconds. It’s definitely the sort of period GM Ron Francis envisioned when he signed Grubauer away from the Avalanche on the first day of NHL free agency in the summer of 2021.