Quick-start Kraken stuns Avalanche 3-1 in NHL playoff debut

DENVER — Minutes after Kraken’s historic playoff start on Tuesday night, feisty defenseman Will Borgen remarked that his underdog team isn’t just happy to be here.

Borgen delivered a hard blow along the side window to Avalanche forward Arturri Lehkonen, who has two conference-clinching overtime goals and a Stanley Cup winner in the past two playoff campaigns alone. The gauntlet had been thrown down by the visiting challengers and continued throughout that 3-1 victory over the defending Cup champions, from the game’s very first goal to its last.

That initial goal, moments after Borgen’s hit, came when Yanni Gourde pushed Avalanche defenseman Devon Toews in an errant punt attempt behind the net directly onto Eeli Tolvanen’s stick. The initial shot was stopped by Alexandar Georgiev, but Tolvanen quickly brought the rebound home to stun the Ball Arena crowd at just 3:26.

“It’s a good way to start the game, get the puck deep – everyone was doing it, get the puck deep, do the forecheck and hit a few guys,” Gourde said, whose team now leads this best-of-seven Series 1. -0 with Game 2 here Thursday night. “And then, when we had the chance, we put the puck behind the goalie. It was a great way to start the match. »

And the final goal, with the Kraken ahead four minutes into the third, would come from another forced turnover when Alex Wennberg grabbed a loose puck behind the Colorado net and passed it to Morgan Geekie for a pinpoint strike from the slot.

“Scoring a first goal is always important in the playoffs, but in the end, for 60 minutes, I think we did a good job,” Gourde said. “There have been gaps where they are a talented group and their skills will take over. We just have to plug the middle of the ice and make sure they try their luck from the outside.

Although Colorado got a tying goal from Mikko Rantanen midway through the first quarter – tapping a pass from Nathan MacKinnon to the mouth of the net – the Avalanche never really recovered from that first push from Kraken in the first few minutes. Instead, the Kraken continued to pressure – and smack – the Avs at every opportunity and Wennberg clawed them back to a 2-1 lead just 80 seconds into the middle frame with a wrist shot. behind an out of position Georgiev from the right face-off circle. .

“Obviously we focused a lot on them,” Wennberg said of the Avalanche. “But it depends on our game. We talked a lot about skating, moving our feet and moving the puck quickly and we felt like we executed well.

There had been question marks over Avalanche goaltender Georgiev’s appearance in his first playoff start, and he was certainly outplayed by his Kraken counterpart, Philipp Grubauer. Although the Kraken were mostly effective in limiting Colorado’s chances in the first half of the game, it was late in the second period that Grubauer really stood out.

During that span, the Avs got the only two power-play chances and a well-placed Grubauer preserved his team’s lead with a handful of timely saves on point opportunities. Then, when his team started giving the puck away, Grubauer was at his best again, stopping JT Compher and Valeri Nichushkin on back-to-back chances from close range.

“He did a great job today,” Wennberg said. “I mean, he made some big saves to keep us in the game and that’s obviously what we need right now.”

The Kraken hadn’t won a regulation game against a playoff team since beating the Bruins in Boston on Jan. 12. Their most effective style can be exhausting to play and there were huge questions about their ability to consistently maintain that stifling physical pace.

Then again, the Kraken had beaten Colorado twice in that building during the regular season and went 2-0-1 against them on aggregate. They also came close to beating them here in January last season, blowing a 3-1 lead late in the second period and losing by one goal.

But they’ve seemed comfortable here throughout their brief history and certainly executed their game plan this time around as well.

“One of the things we wanted to do was make sure we started well,” Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said. “You don’t want to come into that building against that caliber of team and chase the game. So we wanted to make sure we were on it from the start of the game. We started every period well. We were able to build a lead and it was obviously important for us in this game tonight.

They had talked a lot beforehand about needing to slow the Avs down with their forecheck and that’s exactly what they did all along, forcing Colorado’s turnovers and limiting his ability to coast out on his own side. . Still, Hakstol warned there were a few breakdowns “where we didn’t manage the puck well”, the Kraken will need to improve in the future.

“It’s a big task,” Hakstol said of beating the defending champions in their own building. “It’s a game. As I said, there are a lot of areas where we can play better and where we will work.

Hakstol won’t have on-ice practice on Wednesday, but is planning meetings and video sessions to iron out some of the issues that nearly got them in trouble before Grubauer bailed them out. Despite the victory, he doesn’t think the Kraken has the upper hand in anything at the moment.

“We’ll have to come back and play better in two nights.”

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