Kraken forward Mason Appleton confirmed after this latest victory that there are some all-important distinctions to his team’s not-so-appealing habit of falling behind in the opening five minutes of a game.
Namely, the Kraken had taken it to the visiting Florida Panthers with high energy and an aggressive forecheck Sunday night in the minutes before a puck went in their net off the skate of defenseman Carson Soucy. And that factored heavily into what became a 5-3 win over one of the NHL’s best teams, particularly since the Kraken never had to make adjustments to an aggressive forechecking plan they’d already executed well.
“It’s a big difference,” Appleton said. “You don’t waver when it’s just one-zip and the shots after the first period are 13-7 or something like that. We had a couple of Grade A (opportunities) I can remember off the top of my head. It’s when you’re down one or two-zip and the Grade A’s are 5-1 for them after the first, that’s when you’ve got to think on it a little bit.
“But we liked how we played tonight for basically all 60 minutes. I thought it was a very complete effort and we found a way to play a complete game against Florida and that’s an accomplishment with the great group that they have.”
Appleton would seal the Kraken’s second win over the Panthers this season and their third victory overall in four contests since last Monday by taking an Alex Wennberg pass just 26 seconds into the final period and beating Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to his blocker side. The goal was Appleton’s third of the season and first since scoring a pair in Buffalo back on Nov. 30.
Calle Jarnkrok added an insurance marker into an empty net with 18.7 seconds remaining and Bobrovsky pulled for an extra attacker. Kraken goalie Philipp Grubauer was solid all night, but particularly in the final two minutes with the Panthers’ net empty, sliding to his left across the crease to rob Anthony Duclair of a backdoor opportunity.
Duclair had been credited with Florida’s opening goal just 4:57 in on the puck that went in off Soucy’s skate. Soucy would leave with a lower-body injury on an unrelated play later in the period.
It was the 13th time the Kraken had been scored on in the opening five minutes this season. But they didn’t blink, kept pouring it on throughout the remainder of the first, then saw Marcus Johansson, Yanni Gourde and Colin Blackwell pump three quick ones in on Bobrovsky in the middle frame.
Then, after surrendering a pair of quick Florida goals that tied it before the second period ended, Appleton and company regained the lead for good to start the third.
“There’s a real emphasis based on how you dump pucks and place pucks against an explosive transition team like Florida,” said Appleton, who makes his living grinding after pucks dumped into the offensive zone. “So you have to be diligent … and that’s a big reason why you end up on the right side of the scoreboard when you play a team like Florida. Because if you play run-and-gun with them, usually you’ll lose that game.”
Gourde also earns his keep barreling in after dumped pucks, but hadn’t scored for eight games dating back to Dec. 30 against Calgary. Then, after Johansson one-timed a Mark Giordano pass behind Bobrovsky to tie it 1-1 early in the second, it was Gourde one-timing a slapper from the right point at 10:02 of the middle frame to put the Kraken ahead.
“It was much more predictable tonight,” Gourde said of where pucks were being dumped so he could get to them. “Everybody was committed to playing that way. And when the team is fully committed to coming out that way, we can be tough to beat when we do that for 60 minutes.”
The Kraken appeared to have the game in control when Blackwell scored off his helmet — upheld on video review — just 17 seconds later on a goalmouth scramble.
But Morgan Geekie took a slashing penalty barely a minute after Blackwell’s goal and Jonathan Huberdeau cut the Kraken’s lead to just one with a wrist shot through a screen that beat Grubauer on the power play.
Then, just 1:35 after that, Aleksander Barkov unloaded a shot that deflected off Gourde and floated butterfly style toward the Kraken net. Grubauer had gone down early in anticipation of the shot and watched helplessly as it fluttered over him, off the cross bar and into the net to tie the game 3-3.
But the Kraken didn’t stop pushing.
Gourde got into a spirited fight with the much bigger Radko Gudas — who has three inches and 35 pounds on him — before the period ended and battled him to a draw.
“That’s a team item right there, stepping up,” Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said of Gourde taking on Gudas. “And our team responded.”
Indeed they did, scoring more than four goals for the first time in nearly two months.
“Tonight, we had good energy right from the drop of the puck,” Hakstol said. “We responded when we got down by one. That formula for us is OK. We had a hell of a good first period and we were down by one. That formula is OK for us … we’ve been able to come back and win games in that situation where we’ve played well and are tied or down by one.”