Among questions facing the Kraken heading into Wednesday night’s showdown against arguably the NHL’s best team was whether they would sustain the effort from a slump-snapping victory a few days before.
The answer came four minutes into the second period of this 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes when Jared McCann scored his team-leading fifth power-play goal. That slap shot marker from the top of the left faceoff circle enabled McCann’s team, for the second straight game, to overcome the dispiriting setback of having fallen behind despite outplaying their opponent.
Marcus Johansson then helped win this thrilling contest with 3:08 to go in regulation time by emerging from behind the Hurricanes’ net and appearing to surprise Hurricanes goalie Frederik Andersen with a wrist shot that beat him short side. It ignited the crowd of 17,151 at Climate Pledge Arena that had seen the Kraken fight all night to stay in it, aided by standout goaltending from Philipp Grubauer and some timely blocked shots and plays broken up by defenders.
“We can’t just stop playing our game and start chasing and get away from our game plan because we’re down a goal or two,” Johansson said after his team defeated the Hurricanes just a few nights after beating the top-rated Washington Capitals. “I think it was the same thing last game. And tonight, we did a great job of just staying with it and keeping working. Working for each other. That’s how you get back into games. And I think we’ve seen the results of that the last two games.”
As usual, nothing came easy for the home side — which lost forward Calle Jarnkrok early in the third period to an undisclosed injury.
The Kraken play a fast transition game and nearly got burned a few times on some turnovers and odd-man rushes. But Grubauer stopped 35 of 36 shots for the win, on the heels of making 37 saves in Sunday’s win over the Capitals.
“The same as timely goals, we need timely saves,” said Grubauer, who turned 31 on Thursday. “And I finally made those in the last two games. So, if you make some saves back there, the team has a chance to win.”
Grubauer hadn’t always made the saves needed during the team’s recent six-game losing streak that was snapped with Sunday’s win over Washington. And while he doesn’t want to be making three dozen stops per night, he admitted the added workload certainly got him positioned and focused in a hurry.
“When you receive more shots, you’re staying in the game, you’re staying with the flow,” Grubauer said. “It’s a little bit tougher if you’re giving up one or two shots a period and that one shot might be a breakaway or a 2-on-1. It’s always harder, but on the other hand you can’t be giving up 35 or 40 shots every night. We’ve got to dial that down a little bit.”
Still, he added, the Kraken managed to limit the truly “quality chances” — especially in the final period.
For much of the first period, the Kraken had outskated and outhustled the Hurricanes only to see Brendan Smith pump a slap shot past a screened Grubauer from the left point with only 1:28 remaining. But rather than let down, the Kraken came out flying in the second and Brandon Tanev drew the early power-play chance on a hooking call to Jaccob Slavin that changed the game’s trajectory.
The two best chances on the Kraken power play just before McCann’s goal had belonged to the Hurricanes, the first coming when Johansson gave the puck away and Jordan Staal raced in on a partial breakaway only to have his wrist shot stopped by Grubauer.
Moments later, the Hurricanes broke in 2-on-1, but defenseman Mark Giordano got in front of a pass attempt and broke that play up as well.
Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said such “little individual plays you make along the way” like those blocked shots and broken up passes make the difference in a highly competitive game like this one.
“You look through this game and there’s just good, extra effort type of plays,” Hakstol said. “So, when you mix that in with good solid team play you usually come out with good results.”
Carolina outshot the Kraken 16-8 in the middle frame, with four of the shots coming on the same power-play in which Grubauer and well-placed defenders weathered the storm.
Grubauer also kept the Kraken in the contest in the third period with two huge stops on Jordan Martinook from point-blank range on the same shift. The second of those saw Martinook take a pass alone in the circle to Grubauer’s left only to fire a snapshot into the goalie’s pads.
The Kraken, now 6-12-1, had looked to finish this homestand strong against a Carolina team that began Wednesday tied with Florida for the NHL’s highest points total.
This could be the best chance yet for Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour and his core to bring home a Stanley Cup title after three straight playoff appearances. The Kraken spent much of the night playing like a team that knew only their best effort would suffice, making life difficult for Carolina netminder Andersen from the outset.
Smith’s goal right after a Kraken power-play chance at the end of the period came on one of the few shots that Grubauer never saw. Hurricanes veteran Staal had set up shop in front of Grubauer, screening Smith’s incoming blast.
But McCann’s shot through a partial screen early the next period again steered the Kraken toward a more positive outcome.
“The team across the other side tonight, it’s a hell of a team,” Hakstol said. “They put us under pressure at times. But we were able to close it out and get a great win.”