Seattle Kraken Round 1 Game 7 PREVIEW: Winner-take-all!

Photography provided by @Jennthulhu on Instagram

The Need to Knows

The Time: 6:30 pm PT / 9:30 pm ET
The Place: Ball Arena, Denver, CO
Where to watch: ROOT NW, ALT, TNT
Where to listen: KJR 93.3 FM
What happened last time: Game 6 recap

  • The Seattle Kraken, in their second year of existence, are in the playoffs and are matched up in their best-of-7 series with the Colorado Avalanche, who won the Stanley Cup last year.
  • Seattle was not given much of a chance by most media, and assumed Seattle would roll over because hey, they’re an expansion team and in the playoffs and they should just be happy to be here, right?
  • Seattle didn’t get the memo, and it’s been a pretty evenly matched series, going back-and-forth.
  • Jared McCann, Seattle’s best player, was knocked out of the series in game 4 after a late hit by Colorado defenseman Cale Makar, probably their best player. Makar was suspended for one game.
  • Jordan Eberle’s hit from behind has knocked Cogliano out (more on that below), and everyone hates each other. It’s down to the final game to see who moves on.

Game Preview

If you told Kraken fans before the season started that Seattle would be playing a game 7 against the defending Stanley Cup champions in the opening round of the playoffs, I think most would:

  • Accuse you of perhaps imbibing a little too hard
  • Would take that scenario in a heartbeat

Well, here we are. This series has been representative of playoff hockey. Comebacks, overtime winners, hard-hitting, real hatred, and now a definitive game 7.

The biggest news heading into game 7 is Andrew Cogliano is out indefinitely after suffering a fractured neck after receiving a hit from behind by Jordan Eberle. I agree completely with Sky on Air’s take on this in greater detail, but the short of it is that Eberle was not suspended.

Cogliano is almost certainly done for the playoffs. Teams are not required to disclose the injury that’s occurred, so the only time they ever say what it is, it’s when they’re done for the season. Colorado disclosing that Cogliano is out with a fractured neck means he’s not coming back this postseason.

Cogliano isn’t one of their top players, but he is a key depth piece, and that matters more in this series than it might seem.

Colorado has been leaning heavily on their big three: Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Cale Makar. All three are supremely talented and are far more skilled than anyone on the Kraken (Matty Beniers looks like will get to that level in due time, but as a rookie, he’s a few years away.)

But hockey is the ultimate team sport, and depth matters because everyone except the backup goaltender plays. Colorado’s big 3 can’t play every minute even if it seems like they’re trying to. In fact, each player won’t even be on the ice for half the time.

And that’s how Seattle’s taken advantage of Colorado when they’ve won this series. Seattle’s depth is so much better than Colorado’s. Seattle doesn’t have a traditional first line, but they have four second lines and they just keep coming. Fourteen different Kraken players have scored this series. For Colorado? Nine.

Seattle’s key to victory in game 7 is the game as it has been all series: contain the big 3 and let the depth press the advantage. Cogliano was a pretty solid center for them, and now they have a real hole. They’re already down a forward after Valeri Nichushkin left the team under bizarre circumstances and we have no idea if or when he will return.

But the key to the matchup?

How Nathan MacKinnon plays will determine the outcome of this game

Okay, okay, that’s too definitive. Hockey is random and the weirdest things can happen, but assuming that game 7 doesn’t venture into Nonsenseland, we can expect everything to basically hinge on Nathan MacKinnon.

MacKinnon plays with extreme twitchiness and can make tight turns on a dime, which allows him to navigate through traffic with ease. He has a quick, accurate release on his shot and he generates a lot of velocity behind it. His ability to shoot in stride and change the angle of his release makes his shot even more deceptive and challenging for goalies to stop. And he’s stupid fast.

And what makes him great is also what Seattle can take advantage of: Nathan MacKinnon is an absolute psychopath. I mean that in the best way. He only has one speed, and that speed is 800 miles per hour. He’s a fierce competitor. “Nathan MacKinnon looked like he was going through the motions” is the least likely sentence anyone will ever say in their lifetime. And he does seem to have an extra gear in the playoffs. This is him last year going all “fine, I’ll do it myself” for the playoff hat trick:

What on earth is this nonsense??

But in the clip I showed you here? The Avalanche lost that game. MacKinnon can only do so much by himself.

The way the Kraken play hockey (baby) matches up well with MacKinnon’s playing style. Seattle’s one of the best teams at limiting the transition game. MacKinnon generates his offense off the rush more than any other player by far.

Graph of forecheck/cycle offense with MacKinnon as outlier
Data courtesy of the All Three Zones project Used with permission.

Seattle’s so good at defending that exact style of play by using their sticks to get into passing lanes. And by “they” I mostly mean “Yanni Gourde,” who is out there as much as he can be against MacKinnon. But it’s not just Yanni. Look at our baby squid defend:

And this has been the key so far. MacKinnon is intensely competitive, but sometimes that can bubble over to frustration. He didn’t like a non-call and instead of getting back into the play, he stopped to yell at the ref, giving Seattle time and space to score. This goal doesn’t happen this way if MacKinnon doesn’t get frustrated:

If the Kraken can contain MacKinnon (who has been playing on the same line as Mikko Rantanen) and just play that matchup to close to a draw, the Kraken have a great chance at winning this thing. They were able to do so successfully in the three games they’ve won so far, and in the three games they’ve lost, they haven’t.

The craziest thing is that it’s not clear if MacKinnon is even the best player on the Colorado Avalanche. Cale Makar is very much in that discussion, but the way this matchup has gone this series, it really has been about how to contain the MacKinnon line.

Mikko Rantanen deserves some love here as well. He’s a skilled passer and deadly shooter and he’s huge but moves with the fluidity of someone much smaller. As someone who just appreciates good hockey, he’s a lot of fun. We’ve seen the damage he can do this series with 6 goals in this series. Avalanche coach Jared Bednar has gone back and forth splitting up MacKinnon and Rantanen versus putting them on the same line, but they were on the same line in game 6 and it was very successful, so I assume we will see the same thing in game 7.

Just try to draw even or slightly lose to the MacKinnon/Rantanen line and the Kraken have an excellent chance. If they let the MacKinnon line generate a lot of shot quality, it’s probably not going to turn out well for Seattle.

I also think Cale Makar isn’t 100% healthy. He missed the last part of the regular season and came back for game 1. He hasn’t looked bad by any means, but he also hasn’t looked quite like his silky smooth, ooh-and-ahs normal self. It’s unlikely that he got fully healthy just exactly in time for the playoffs to start. Even with him sitting out a game with suspension, that’s probably not long enough to get back to fully healthy. Everyone’s playing through injury; it’s just a matter of how bad. That factors here as well when considering the keys to the matchup.


Philipp Grubauer struggled to start this season, but after he came back from a midseason injury, he’s been getting better and better, and he’s been lights out against his former team.

Because Colorado is going to get their chances, and Grubauer is seeing the puck well and moving well. He’s made some spectacular saves this series:

Colorado’s game 7 history

This probably doesn’t matter, but there’s some smallish chance it could. The Avalanche have not won a game 7 in 21 years.

MacKinnon was on the team for the last three. Though I think it’s somewhat unlikely, it’s certainly not impossible for the scenario to occur where the Avalanche get down a couple of goals early and MacKinnon can’t get any time or space and he starts to get frustrated and their game 7 history contributes to that frustration. (The fact that the Kraken have scored first in every game this series but have lost three of those games probably means the Avs won’t think they’re out of it if they get down early — because they aren’t.)

But if you are superstitious, at least one thing is true: there is no such thing as an “Avalanche game 7 mystique.”

Final thoughts on the series

The McCann and now Cogliano injuries really have put a damper on the series, and it’s a shame that this is what’s defined the series instead of two fast, aggressive teams going up against each other and the narrative being about how the games were being played at a breathtaking pace. Because Cale Makar is truly an incredible player, and it’s hard to appreciate that when the defining moment of the series so far has been the hit on McCann.

It’s also out of character for both Makar and Eberle. Neither has a history of dirty play. If you had a pool to draw players’ names for who would lay the dirtiest hit, Eberle would be one of the last players picked and Makar would probably be the actual last (not counting the goaltenders).

This has been an otherwise awesome, back-and-forth, fast, tight series with two smart coaches making adjustments and counter-adjustments and counter-counter-adjustments all series long, and I hope we can take a moment to appreciate everything we’ve seen and what a spectacularly entertaining experience Seattle’s first playoff appearance has been.

The consensus was Avs in 4 or Avs in 5 and that this would be a cakewalk for the defending champs against the expansion team, but that was often based on lazy and/or uninformed analysis. The Kraken might win, they might lose, but it’s clear that when the Kraken are on their game, they can compete with anyone. And coach Dave Hakstol has the team playing well more often than not.

The bittersweet thing about playoff hockey is it’s where legendary moments are made, but it’s also where the heartbreak is greatest, a long-established Seattle sports tradition. And every game 7 comes with intense emotions: intense elation, or intense disappointment. There is no in-between. The importance of every faceoff; every puck battle; every shot; every save; is magnified to the nth degree. And at the end of it all, the players will line up and shake hands, one of the great hockey traditions.

It’s game 7 of playoff hockey and there’s nothing worse/better.