The playoffs began for Colorado much like the regular season — some surprise injuries and rusty players couldn’t get the job done against a team motivated to prove themselves against the defending champions.
Sometime between warmups and puck drop, Jack Johnson was deemed unable to play due to injury, and despite coming back into the lineup Cale Makar and Josh Manson were unable to play at the level expected of them.
Couple those difficulties with the Seattle Kraken’s strong forecheck and stingy defense in front of former Colorado Avalanche netminder Philip Grubauer, and you get what you saw tonight - a frustrated Colorado team unable to create space for themselves fell 3-1 to their underdog opponent.
Let’s get into it.
Seattle started with more jump that Colorado, and one bad mistake from Devon Toews led to an early Kraken lead. The speed of Seattle’s forecheck forced him to look for a pass up the middle, but Eeli Tolvanen was right there to intercept and rip a shot that Georgiev blockered down right back to him for an easy rebound finish and the first ever Seattle Kraken playoff goal.
✍️ write this one in the history books. pic.twitter.com/2EfrLH966P— x - Seattle Kraken (@SeattleKraken) April 19, 2023
Colorado weathered a storm of Kraken forechecking after the goal, and seemed poised to push back until a missed pinch by Josh Manson sprung a two on one that was nearly dangerous, but Manson got back in time to hook Brandon Tanev and stop the shot.
On the ensuing Kraken powerplay, Colorado’s penalty killers showed the tenacity and precision that made the unit an asset in Colorado’s late season push to the Central Division title. They kept Seattle to the outside easily, held them without a shot, and forced an icing just as the penalty expired.
The top line came out for the offensive zone draw, which Mikko Rantanen won back to Bowen Byram. Byram dished to MacKinnon who dangled a bit til Rantanen got free in the low slot where his superstar center hit him for an easy redirect into the back of the net.
MacKinnon then dominated the next shift - hitting, deking, and passing all over the offensive zone to keep possession and generate a few shot attempts for Dennis Malgin and Cale Makar.
Seattle finally dug the puck out two shifts later and put an easy wrister in on Georgiev. They won the next faceoff, and a point shot generated a massive rebound that went right to Yanni Gourde with an open net to shoot at but Makar dove feet first into the lane to block it.
A couple minutes of back and forth action later, Josh Manson’s rusty game struck again as he tied up Morgan Geekie on a wraparound attempt and got called for holding. The Seattle powerplay found stronger footing on this second chance, though the Avs penalty kill was still able to prevent any truly dangerous chances. Georgiev made three saves on point shots, and the best chance actually went to JT Compher who thought he was slashed cutting across the crease and couldn’t quite get a shot off.
The Avalanche started with a strong shift from the top line, but then Alex Wennberg got free in transition off of a bad change and beat Georgiev clean off a cross ice feed from Jaden Schwartz. Byram was loose in his coverage trying to take up the vacated space and gave Wennberg space to launch a perfect top corner bomb.
Wenny firing off an absolute dart here, y'all pic.twitter.com/mFhghDpIqm— x - Seattle Kraken (@SeattleKraken) April 19, 2023
The third line then delivered a strong shift, culminating in Lars Eller digging a puck free in the corner only for Will Borgen to try to pull him down but accidentally smack him with a stick in the face.
Borgen went to the box, and the top unit got set up neatly but MacKinnon hit Compher in the chin with his shot. JT went down wincing, but popped back up and set another screen for a Makar shot that missed wide. The second unit then won a draw and set up a Rodrigues one timer in the high shot that ticked wide off Grubauer’s shaft.
The physicality ramped up in the next few minutes of back and forth even strength play, though neither team laid any actual big hits or created any dangerous offensive opportunities until Mikko Rantanen nearly found Artturi Lehkonen with a backdoor feed that would have connected had Carson Soucy not hooked Lehkonen and forced him to crash into Grubauer.
Though it looked initially like a potential goalie interference call, Soucy went to the box for hooking and Colorado went to the powerplay for the second time. The top unit won the draw and got set up for a quick chance Mackinnon missed just wide. JT Compher corralled the rebound on the wall and set up MacKinnon for another shot that also missed wide and ricocheted out of the zone.
After a clean reentry, Rantanen from the goal line nearly set up a clean slot chance for Nichushkin but Will Borgen lifted his stick at the last moment. The second unit set up a Rodrigues one timer and then another from Bo Byram, but Grubauer tracked both cleanly and shrugged them off.
Great offensive zone pressure from the top line led to a one timer from MacKinnon at the far dot on a nifty feed from Girard, but Grubauer got across. Compher and Nichushkin then nearly beat Grubauer on a two on one but Compher hit his far pad and a falling Nichushkin couldn’t quite bury the rebound.
As the chaotic period careened toward its final minutes, Mikko Rantanen got free one on two by cutting from the far dot through a defender across the slot but couldn’t stuff it past Grubauer. Both teams then dialed up the hitting, with Lars Eller scuffling with Borgen, Gourde taking down Girard, and Lehkonen laying a massive hit on Matty Beniers that also took out Nichushkin and Borgen in the near corner as the horn sounded.
Colorado seemed to finally find its game in the second half of the period, but went into the break trailing two to one, behind in shots 26-21, and facing an ex-teammate proving he’s not as washed as the haters think in Philip Grubauer.
The top line started strong, creating a Makar point shot through traffic that Grubauer was forced to fight off, but Seattle quickly took back the edge in play as a bad bounce off the end boards off a faceoff play in the Avalanche zone eluded Josh Manson and went right to Wennberg, who was able to feed Geekie in the slot and he beat Georgiev clean.
Geeking out over this goal rn pic.twitter.com/fbVFLgysoB— x - Seattle Kraken (@SeattleKraken) April 19, 2023
After the goal, both teams traded ineffective trips up and down the ice until Nichushkin got free in the slot for a one timer that he missed wide. The top line followed that up with an extended shift in the offensive end that ended when a Makar shot caught Vince Dunn up high and the refs blew the play dead. He went immediately to the trainers on bench for assistance, but was not injured - it hit him directly in the visor.
The fourth line generated a Byram one timer that Grubauer snagged easily. Eller then drove the net from the corner and pushed a puck through traffic that found its way to EJ on the backdoor, but Grubauer got his pad across on EJ’s awkward, bad angle backhand attempt.
With 4:28 to go and an offensive zone draw, Bednar pulled Georgiev. Rantanen lost the draw and Seattle iced it. Compher lost the next draw and they iced it again, nearly hitting the net. Rantanen won this time, and Nichushkin jammed a puck into traffic in the slot that bounced up into Grubauers belly. Compher then won a draw, but Lehkonen got called for slashing because Dunn acted like he got hit in the face even though the stick hit his forearm.
On the PK, EJ blocked an Eberle shot up out of play. Eller drove the Ozone shorthanded and found Toews across the ice but Grubauer got over for an easy save despite Logan O’Connor’s screen in front. Seattle played keep away to kill the rest of the penalty time.
Georgiev went back to the bench with 1:35 to go and the Avs got set up for a Makar drive that hit the post. His next attempt he fanned on but recovered before Seattle could get a chance at an empty net. MacKinnon thought he got slashed by Larsson, and then when Larsson went to ice the puck out at the blueline MacKinnon laid him out. That hit was the Avalanche’s last sign of life for the night in the 3-1 loss.
Losing sucks, and not starting strong was certainly frustrating. But this game was always going to matter more to Seattle than the Avs, and the Kraken showed they can skake at the Avs level- now the Avs need to show they can skate at their own level too.
They were not their best selves, especially Toews on that awful turnover for the first goal, but Colorado did a lot of good things in this game as well and without that glaring error we’d have a slightly better taste in our mouths.
Underlying stats paint that picture, as Colorado generated 2.55 expected goals and allowed 2.19. Score effects are a factor here, as Seattle backed off once they got up two goals, but that trend was roughly the xGF spread all game. Colorado hit four posts on the night, bounces just refused to go their way all game.
The second line did not get the job done, as they were on the ice for two goals against and were not able to generate much offense of their own.
Josh Manson was rusty, and only played ten minutes. He needs to get up to speed as fast as possible. Meyers, Nieto, and Malgin didn’t crack ten minutes. Andrew Cogliano should hopefully draw back into the lineup as soon as he is able to go.
Cale Makar is never good in his first game back from injury. Expect more from him and the whole team on Thursday.
Game 2 Thursday night back at Ball Arena as the Avalanche look to even the series. Puck drop at 8 p.m. MT again.