Rare rest, then Kraken’s most dominant, flying, playoff game. Can they repeat in Game 4?
Ryan Donato is a center. An offensive player.
Yet he set a clear message and tone for the Kraken’s Game 3 win over the Dallas Stars that put Seattle up two games to one in the best-of-seven second round series in the Stanley Cup playoffs Sunday night.
He flew around the Climate Pledge Arena ice hitting Stars like a football linebacker, a defender.
Yanni Gourde, another Kraken center, crunched Dallas’ Esa Lindell then Wyatt Johnston in the Stars’ own end. Seattle rookie winger Tye Kartye slammed Dallas’ Jani Hakanpaa into the boards deep in the corner to the right of the Stars’ net.
Four of the Kraken’s first seven hits of Sunday’s Game 3 were by forwards. Seattle had 15 of the game’s first 17 hits in all. The Kraken constantly pushed up on and pressured Dallas. They forced Stars turnovers in their own end.
It was, as they say, Kraken hockey, baby: a high-effort, high-pressure, constantly moving and hitting game.
It was the opposite of Game 2 in Dallas three days earlier. Seattle tired. The Stars sped past the more passive Kraken and won 4-2. It wasn’t that close.
In Game 3, the hitting — more specifically, the forechecking by Seattle’s forwards — returned. The Kraken often didn’t let the Stars out of their own end. Seattle had its most dominant of 10 playoff games so far. The Kraken steamrolled the Stars 7-2 to take the series lead entering Game 4 back at Climate Pledge Arena Tuesday night (6:50 p.m., ESPN).
“Our forecheck has been good in both playoff series, and so far in this one, too,” Donato said Tuesday morning, after a way-light, very-optional skate at the team’s Northgate training center.
“It’s very important. They are a fast team that can break out very easily. If you let the puck get into the forwards’ hands that are flying, they make you pay for it.
“Creating turnovers and forcing it down there, keeping it down there (in Dallas’ own zone) is definitely a priority of ours.”
It takes energy, and thus rest, to play the way the Kraken want to.
So Seattle uses its depth it’s had all season — that the remainder of the NHL is now noticing as decisive — to maximize advantages. Swarms of four relatively fresh lines of players seek to create turnovers and minimize the time the Kraken spend in their own defensive zone. The idea is to pressure constantly up the ice, in the Stars’ end, to minimize the time the Kraken’s defense and goaltender Philip Grubauer have to repel Dallas’ dangerous offense.
Defensemen are known as the hitters, the enforcers, the tone-setters in hockey. Yet the 12 Seattle forwards that played in Game 3 combined for 20 of the Kraken’s 29 hits. Most of those 20 hits were far up the ice and in the Stars’ end.
By comparison, Dallas’ 12 forwards combined for just nine hits Sunday.
When Seattle is at its best — which is right now, two wins from the Western Conference finals — it’s not so much who scores the goals but who is forechecking, hitting, forcing the opponent to lose the puck.
It’s who is doing the dirty work to keep the puck in the other team’s end, not the Kraken’s.
Sunday, it was everybody. And it was a win.
“I don’t think the way we play is necessarily going to change,” Donato said. “We’ve got to work hard on the forecheck. We’ve got to create turnovers.
“We’ve got to grind them down.”
How the Kraken rest
The Kraken’s challenge is to maintain this high-effort, rugged style night in and night out, during the most grueling postseason in sports.
Every Stanley Cup playoffs round is a seven-game series. The Kraken being way up and out in the upper left corner of North America makes their travel longer and more sapping. The first-round series they won in seven games ousting defending Cup champion Colorado, the Kraken had only one day off between each game.
That pattern continued into round two at Dallas.
Then, like rain onto a parched desert, a gift.
A concert. And, thus, a day off.
Latin Grammy Award-winning Puerto Rican musical singer and songwriter Rauw Alejandro already had a packed concert scheduled for this past Saturday night at Climate Pledge Arena. That was a reason the NHL broke the Kraken’s game-day off-game cycle. The league gave the Seattle-Dallas series a second day off between Game 2 Thursday and Game 3 Sunday.
The Kraken seized advantage of their first two-day break between games since the end of the regular season last month. They played their fastest, most physical and dominant game of their postseason.
Jordan Eberle said he played at home with his kids and family Saturday. He scored Sunday, for the third time in three games.
Soucy said he went to the dog park. He scored the first playoff goal of his five-year NHL career Sunday.
“It’s big. Just the draining of a seven-game series, playing every other day, it can wear on you, even though you don’t feel it it gets to you,” Soucy said.
“Yeah, it was huge. Obviously, the guys looked fresh.”
So loud at the final horn the players couldn’t hear it. So the ferry horn blows. Kraken 7, Stars 2, Seattle leads Dallas 2-1 in the best of 7 Stanley Cup playoff series.
Game 4 in this House of Noise Tuesday @thenewstribune pic.twitter.com/AS29ZJ0j2P
— Gregg Bell (@gbellseattle) May 8, 2023
Can the Kraken do it again, but back on only one day’s rest for Game 4 Tuesday and Game 5 in Dallas Thursday after more travel? Games 6 and 7, if necessary, will also be after one day off and travel.
Rauw Alejandro has moved on. There are no concerts on the immediate horizon to create more days off.
So coach Dave Hakstol is not practicing his team. It’s a lighter touch, like Pete Carroll does with the Seattle Seahawks during pounding NFL seasons.
Carrol was in the tunnel high-fiving the Kraken players on their way from the ice to the locker room immediately following their Game 3 win Sunday.
Only a handful of Kraken skaters plus Grubauer and backup goalie Martin Jones were on the ice during Seattle’s optional skate Monday morning at the Kraken Community Iceplex.
“We haven’t tapered it a lot. ...Some teams I’ve had our best to practice the day before and not morning skate,” Hakstol, who coached the Philadelphia Flyers from 2015-19, said Monday. “Other teams, this one in particular, we’ve been in a pretty good rhythm. Typically, we haven’t practiced a day before a game. We get our work done in our morning skate. We have our meetings.
“And then energy is really premium for us as we get into game night.”
Hakstol pointed to Game 2 last Thursday in Dallas. It came after Seattle won Game 7 on Sunday at the end of seven games with only one day off — then had only one day off from closing out the Avalanche to winning Game 1 in Dallas last Tuesday.
“You saw us when Dallas raised the temperature in Game 2 and we showed a little bit of fatigue. That’s not a very good formula for us,” Hakstol said.
“So rest is very important for us, especially as you go through the intensity of games and the follow-on of games that we are in right now in the playoffs.”
His Kraken players appreciate their coach’s ways.
“Coach has done a good job preparing us every night. We haven’t practiced much,” said 32-year-old defenseman Justin Schultz, who has played in 77 career playoff games and won two Stanley Cups, with Pittsburgh in the 2015-16 and ‘16-’17 seasons. “It’s tougher out West. You are traveling a lot. You need rest, especially this time of year.
“So we are sticking with that plan. ...This time of year you don’t really need practice. It’s more about just being ready and rested, and good to go.”
McCann skating, but...
Jared McCann skated Monday morning wearing a normal (that is, not wearing a no-contact) jersey. He did that Sunday morning, too, before Game 3.
Hakstol is holding out hope the Kraken’s scoring leader from the regular season can return from his unspecified injury to play in this series against Dallas.
McCann hasn’t played since April 24 when Coloardo’s Cale Makar smashed him into the boards and glass with a late hit after a shot went out of play early in Game 4 of Seattle’s first-round series.
“There’s no change in status. ...Nothing’s imminent,” towards McCann playing, Hakstol said.
“He’s a huge part of our team. We want to get him back as soon as we can. Hopefully that will be some time this series. But until we’re able to have him back everybody else has to step up.”
That’s included Beniers. The rookie center has taken McCann’s place as one of Seattle’s four primary penalty killers.
So far, so good for the Kraken there. Dallas is just 1 for 8 (12.5%) on the power play in the series. The Stars had the NHL’s fifth-best power play during the regular season, converting 25% of man advantages by penalties into goals.
Daniel Sprong injured
Hakstol said he had no update Monday on the injury that forced Kraken winger Daniel Sprong to leave Game 3 after playing only 6 1/2 minutes.
Sprong has a goal and an assist playing in all 10 playoff games.