For certain games along the way in the regular season and playoffs we use the term “must win” hypothetically, figuratively, or just to create a sense of urgency, but for the Seattle Kraken on Saturday the words are literal.
Win Game-6 at Climate Pledge Arena against the Dallas Stars and the remarkable 2nd season continues with a trip to Texas for Game-7; lose, and the focus turns to evaluations and goodbyes for the summer.
That’s where things stand when the two teams take the ice for puck drop a little after 4 pm pacific.
“Anytime you get an opportunity to eliminate a team and save yourself the wear and tear of an extra game in a series, that’s helpful as you move through the playoff trail,” Stars head coach Pete DeBoer said Friday. “Us finishing off Minnesota (in the 1st-round) in six, rather than seven, gave us an extra day of rest and an extra day of healing and all those things, and I think that adds up. You might not get the immediate benefit of that, but it adds up, so you want to take advantage of these elimination opportunities.”
The Stars earned the opportunity by virtue of their 5-2 victory in Game-5 at American Airlines Center on Thursday night to take a 3-games-to-2 series lead.
The Kraken are obviously aware of their situation and of the daunting task of having to win two games in a row, but they can’t look at it that way. They’re preparing for one hockey game, making the adjustments and improvements necessary to keep their hopes alive.
“We’re a confident group,” Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol said Friday. “Hey, we’re down 3-2, it’s win or you go home. That’s how it is. We haven’t ducked reality or ducked the truth at any point in time this year and we won’t now. We don’t need to, we’ve gotta go home and win a hockey game. The reality is to win the series we have to win two in a row, but you can’t really worry about two right now, we’ve gotta home and get one, and our group will be ready to do that.”
The Kraken will need well above average goaltending, to be perfect on the penalty kill, and to find their groove and timing on the forecheck.
“We have to handle their pace a little bit better,” Hakstol said. “The last couple of games, their pace both defensively and offensively has been outstanding. We’re gonna have to get a little bit quicker with the puck, we’re gonna have to be a little more direct in the things that we’re doing, we’re going to have to handle that pace a little bit better.”
The Kraken fell behind two-nothing early in the 1st period of Game-5 and then 3-0 early in the 2nd period.
“We gave them too easy of opportunities, a couple of odd-man rushes, I think we have to be more detailed on the defensive side, not give them the rush chances,” Kraken forward Eeli Tolvanen said Friday.
One will often hear, “come from behind hockey is losing hockey”, proven time and time again in this series with the team that scores first winning every game but one. The only exception was Seattle’s overtime victory in Game-1.
In the other Western Conference semi-final, the Vegas Golden Knights won the pivotal 5th game in their series against the Edmonton Oilers to take a 3-2 series lead on Friday night. Superstar Connor McDavid scored twice in the game but the Oilers comeback fell short in a 4-3 loss.
Out east, the Florida Panthers finished off the Toronto Maple Leafs in five games with a 3-2 overtime win on Friday and will now face the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final.