Kraken And Goalie Interference We Save For Later
The biggest suspense of Game-4 between the Seattle Kraken and Dallas Stars happened before the puck dropped Tuesday night. High-scoring Kraken winger Jared McCann had participated in the morning skate. He’d taken his turn in warm-ups. And yup, there he was on the bench for the first time after a six-game injury absence.
The Kraken had scored seven times in their previous game without McCann. Expectations in Seattle hockey circles were that his reintroduction to the lineup would keep the goals pouring in.
McCann celebrated his first shift with a rising one-timer saved by Dallas goalie Jake Oettinger.
“It would be a little bit too good to be true for that one to go in. That’s not really the way it works,” said Kraken coach Dave Hakstol.
Ryan Suter gave McCann a bump after an icing call, perhaps to test his sturdiness. McCann responded with choice words, letting Suter know his unfriendly “welcome back” wasn’t appreciated.
In what must have caused hearts to skip a beat on the Seattle bench, McCann later entered a scrum with stick high and malice on his mind. Kudos to linesman Brad Kovachik, who seemed to take special care separating Jared from the pack, to prevent possible re-injury to the Kraken winger.
McCann skated 13:11 in the game, about three minutes under his average TOI in the regular season. He played briefly on both the Kraken power play and penalty kill. Coach Hakstol believes his play improved as the game went on.
“I thought he worked his way into this game. His pace and his confidence got better and better throughout the game,” Hakstol said.
“First couple of shifts were a little tougher, but toward the end I felt really good.”
Playoff Hostility Missing From Series
Play continued as Seattle’s Oliver Bjorkstrand of Herning, Denmark, and Dallas’s Radek Faksa of Vítkov, Czechia, held an on-ice summit in front of the players’ benches. Rather than diplomatic niceties, they engaged in sufficient wrangling to earn roughing minors had this been a regular season game. The un-penalized encounter represented a relatively rare display of snarl in this second round series.
Seattle’s opening round against the Colorado Avalanche didn’t turn nasty until two highly questionable hits: In Game-4, when McCann was knocked out by Colorado’s Cale Makar, and in Game-6, when Seattle’s Jordan Eberle fractured Andrew Cogliano’s neck.
There’s been very little even approaching “dirty” between the Kraken and Stars through four games. Besides the Bjorkstrand-Faksa dustup, here’s what passed for nasty Tuesday night:
Seattle’s Vince Dunn, attempting to bring life back to his team and the Climate Pledge Arena crowd, exchanged stick jabs, shoves and bear hugs with Dallas’ Max Domi. Both received roughing minors.
On a Stars power play, Adam Larsson took exception to Roope Hintz’s extra whack at Kraken goalie Philipp Grubauer’s pads after a save. The resulting confrontation left Larsson with a bloodied nose. Defense partner Jamie Oleksiak entered the fray, tangling for the second time in the series with former teammate and namesake Jamie Benn. Referees again determined matching minor penalties would suffice.
In Consecutive Games, A Goalie Exits After 40
For as long as the Kraken last in the playoffs, the narrative will be Seattle’s depth vs. the, pardon the expression, star power of the opposition. Benn, one of those Dallas “Stars,” beat Grubauer on a 1st period power play to break the visitors in front, 1-0.
Later Dallas luminaries lighting the lamp included Joe Pavelski, Hintz and Domi, (twice, one an empty-netter).
Jason Robertson, the Stars’ leading scorer, thought he had one, too. Grubauer got just enough of Robertson’s drive toward a seemingly vacated net to knock the puck out of play.
Dallas’s other goal came from Thomas Harley (who?), a defenseman who spent virtually all season in the AHL. Like Benn, Harley scored on a high drive past Grubauer’s blocker. We’ll know soon enough if that’s a coincidence or if the Stars think they’ve found a vulnerable area in Grubauer’s game.
Most likely to rest his netminder before a pivotal fifth game in two days, Kraken coach Hakstol benched Grubauer after two periods. Backup Martin Jones didn’t allow a goal in mop-up duty. The prior game, Dallas coach Pete DeBoer had used the same strategy, sitting Oettinger in favor of Scott Wedgewood for the 3rd period on Sunday night.
Oettenger Returns To Form
After Game-3’s wipe-out, the message from Dallas’s dressing room was that their goalie was awesome in bounce-back games. Those kinds of assurances are typically made half with sincere conviction, and half with crossed fingers.
In Game-4, the Stars’ netminder made those words stand up. When nifty Kraken passing left Ryan Donato open in the slot, Oettinger’s glove had the answer. With Seattle trailing by three in the third period, Dallas lost coverage and Carson Soucy broke in solo. A goal would have made the last 11 minutes interesting, but Oettinger made the night’s most timely save.
It didn’t hurt that the Dallas defense limited Seattle to 19 shots on goal and snuffed out both Seattle power plays.
“They had a higher desperation to start the game,” said Jaden Schwartz, who scored Seattle’s first two goals. “They were the more aggressive team. We were on our heels and didn’t spend enough time in the O-zone.”
One Goal Does Not A Comeback Make
What didn’t make an appearance in either game at Climate Pledge Arena: any semblance of drama.
Seattle built a 4-0 lead in the 2nd period of Game-3; Mason Marchment then answered for the visitors. Marchment followed with an emphatic fist pump toward the Dallas bench, as if to say, “The rally has begun.” It hadn’t.
Similarly, the Stars took a 4-0 lead in the middle frame of Tuesday night’s Game-4. Schwartz broke the shutout, filling the home sellout with dreams that their heroes could mount a comeback. They couldn’t.
Falling behind only sporadically awakened the Kraken. In the waning minutes of the 1st period, Seattle made one of its too-infrequent pushes. Yanni Gourde made a magical no-look pass while falling into the end boards under pressure. But defenseman Larsson, pinching in from the point, stubbed his shot, sending the puck inches wide of the near post.
Moments later, Schwartz waited patiently just outside the blue paint. A high, fluttering puck finally landed, but Schwartz also fired wide.
Late Signs Of Life
If the Kraken sent a message in advance of Game-5, it was delivered in the final 20 minutes. First, rookie callup Tye Kartye added to his budding reputation for strong physical play, punishing Joel Hanley with a massive hit. Donato then contributed his own jarring hit on Radek Faksa. Not long after, Schwartz scored his second goal on a delayed penalty.
Larsson ripped home another Seattle goal with five minutes left to narrow the deficit to 5-3. Opponents may force the Kraken to go, but they rarely go quietly. However, my press box buddy, and this site’s managing editor, Rob Simpson correctly wondered, “Where was this intensity earlier in the game?”
Dallas won 6-3, knotting the series at two wins apiece. Seattle will need much more than 20 rousing minutes to retake the series lead in Game-5 on Thursday night in Big D.