A hundred little-noticed plays go into winning any hockey game. One of those happened while the Seattle Kraken were killing a penalty in Game-5 of their playoff series with the Colorado Avalanche.
With one minute to play in the second period and the shorthanded Kraken clinging to a 2-1 lead, Alex Wennberg, the puck, and Avalanche superstar Nathan MacKinnon converged along the far boards in the Seattle zone. MacKinnon had already scored earlier in the period.
Wennberg won the puck battle, but his stick paid the price. It snapped against the boards, and as per rule, had to be discarded. This was potentially disastrous, because a weaponless defender with his team already down a man might be too much disadvantage to overcome.
With the puck in his skates, Wennberg knew he had to, at all costs, get the biscuit out to center ice. What happened next is part of the reason so many players knock around a soccer ball under the stands before games.
The 9th-year forward kicked the puck up the far wing. Colorado defenseman Bowen Byram attempted to hold the puck in at the left point, but Wennberg swung his right leg again to power the puck to center ice. And he wasn’t done, either. As the Avalanche rushed to retrieve the puck, Wennberg used a third and final kick to complete the clear, before heading off the ice.
Kraken goalie Philipp Grubauer ensured Alex’s efforts stood up, making two fine saves in the waning moments of the middle frame. The first denied a blueline shot through traffic by Byram; the second turned away a buzzer-beating attempt by Colorado’s hot hand, Mikko Rantanen.
When the teams returned for the third period, not only did Seattle kill the final 50 seconds of Eeli Tolvanen‘s slashing minor; 50 seconds after that, Yanni Gourde extended the Kraken lead to 3-1 by deflecting Carson Soucy‘s blueline wrister.
The Kraken went on to win 3-2, taking an improbable 3-2 lead in the series. The Kraken will have the chance to eliminate the Avalanche at Climate Pledge Arena in Game-6 on Friday night.
Much of the credit will rightly go to goalie Grubauer, coming back to Denver to make 26 saves to haunt his former team.
(As Grubauer said after winning Game-1, “There’s nothing better than playing against your old team in the playoffs.”)
Also on the honor roll: the goal scorers, new dad Morgan Geekie and 21-year-old Tye Kartye, playing his first NHL game. But their efforts wouldn’t have been enough without a hundred other little-noticed plays Wednesday night, including Wennberg’s expert footwork.
— Geekie’s goal marked the first time in 105 years a franchise has scored first in each of its first five Stanley Cup playoff games. The Toronto Arenas, later named the St. Patrick’s and then the Maple Leafs, were the first and last to do it.
— Helped by Wennberg’s fancy footwork, the Kraken improved to 11 of 12 on the penalty kill through five games, including both times shorthanded Wednesday.
— The road-warrior Kraken won their second away playoff game, extending season-long excellence on enemy ice. Seattle’s 26 road victories in the regular season tied for fourth most in the NHL. Colorado was one of the top three with 29 wins away from home, plus one so far in the playoffs.
Overall, road teams in this year’s playoffs are 23-14, matching the most road wins through 37 games in a postseason in NHL history.
— Lusty Booing update: Colorado defenseman Cale Makar, suspended for Wednesday’s game, will return for Game-6 to an assuredly harsh reception at Climate Pledge Arena. The victim of Makar’s late hit in Game-4, Seattle’s high-scoring winger Jared McCann, isn’t expected to return.