All the improved results for Jordan Eberle and his Kraken teammates the past six weeks had come with the important caveat that a majority of opponents hadn’t exactly been top-shelf quality.

That changed big time on Wednesday night when the NHL-leading Colorado Avalanche strolled into town, having steamrolled the Kraken their first meeting at Climate Pledge Arena back in November. The Kraken jumped all over Colorado early on, with first-period goals by Kole Lind, Eberle and Yanni Gourde propelling them to a 3-2 victory that rates as a season highlight given the caliber of foe. 

“Obviously, any team you go up against 3-0 early it’s a bonus,” Eberle said after the Kraken secured their first three-game win streak ever. “But at the same time against these guys, you understand that they have the firepower to easily come back from that. But I thought we did a good job for the most part in limiting their chances.”

The early explosion was rare for the Kraken, who’d scored three in the opening frame just twice all season in Arizona and Buffalo back in November. And they’d need all of them as the dangerous Avs eventually crawled back into it starting with Cale Makar getting them on the board with a nice give-and-go with Nazem Kadri late in the first to send the teams to intermission at 3-1. 

The Kraken just barely emerged unscathed from some second-period penalty trouble when Kadri had Philipp Grubauer down and out on a power play but fired the puck wide of the net. Kadri had missed his past eight games with an injury but returned to the Avs lineup on a night Colorado was missing top goal-scorer Mikko Rantanen and captain Gabriel Landeskog.

Trade deadline pickup Artturi Lehkonen made it a one-goal affair by scoring on a goal mouth scramble with 3:20 to play.

Advertising

The Avs pulled goalie Pavel Francouz and kept the pressure on through the game’s dying seconds. But Grubauer held firm, stopping 25 of 27 shots for his first victory against his former Colorado team as the Kraken improved to 9-7-1 their past 17 contests.

Eberle said afterward the game was a testament to the Kraken “learning how to win.” While he noted the Kraken had beaten top teams Carolina, Florida and Washington, the key is to stay consistent against all opponents.

“In my opinion, you have to lose games first in order to learn how to win,” he said. “And then once you start winning games, when you lose them in terrible fashion they tend to hurt more. And you don’t understand how close you are to getting over that hump.

“I’m not saying we’re 100% there,” he said. “Just because we’re on a three-game win streak doesn’t mean we’re on top of the mountain. But this should give us some confidence to see how we need to play in setting that standard and that bar of how you need to do it to beat teams like Colorado.”

The Avalanche had won four in a row on the road and gone 6-0-1 in their past seven away contests. They were also 38-7-4 since Jan. 1, that .816 winning percentage by far the league’s finest over that period. 

It was right near the start of that January stretch by Colorado that the Kraken ventured to Denver for a game and nearly upset the Avalanche in front of their home fans. The Kraken led 3-1 late in the second period and took a lead into the final frame before succumbing 4-3 on a disputed goal. 

Advertising

That game marked a turnaround of sorts by the team following an extended COVID-19 layoff. The Kraken since then have more consistently turned in 60-minute efforts, but the results weren’t always there.

And while they’d beaten playoff contending Los Angeles, Vegas and Dallas teams during the recent six-week stretch, the Avalanche are a different breed of opponent and have looked unbeatable at times since the midseason.

“Tonight, we looked like a playoff team,” Grubauer said. “We did all the right things in our zone and forechecking in the neutral zone. We were supporting each other. We were on top of the puck on the power play, special teams. We did a really good job.”

And in the closing seconds, as the Avalanche pressed for the tying goal, the Kraken threw their bodies around in puck battles and refused to relent.

“You just don’t shut those guys down,” Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said. “You’ve got to work hard, stay above and check out over the middle.”

It helped that the Kraken jumped on Colorado early.

Will Borgen had fired a long pass up ice that took a hard carom off the end boards right to Lind, who shook off a defender, snared the puck and deked Avalanche goalie Francouz to open the scoring just 72 seconds in. Then, just three minutes later, Eberle emerged from the side boards with the puck, moved into the right circle and beat Francouz high to the short side for a 2-0 advantage.

Advertising

Matty Beniers drew an assist on the play for his fourth point in four consecutive games since entering the NHL last week.

The Avalanche were still getting their skates beneath them with just over five minutes to play in the frame when Jared McCann fired a shot that struck Gourde’s skate and headed into the net. The assist was the 200th point of McCann’s career and gave the Kraken only their second 3-0 first-period lead all season.

“You have to have the trust through every layer of what you’re doing and we’re seeing a lot of that right now,” Hakstol said. “Guys are doing a good job together … right now, there’s not a whole lot of cracks there. Guys are working hard, they’re in sync, they’re trusting each other and playing pretty hard for one another. That’s a nice foundation to have.”

NOTE: During a first-period pause, the Kraken highlighted the fact linesman Vaughan Rody was working his final game in his 21st season. The Manitoba native resides in Lake Stevens and moved to Washington years ago to pursue his officiating dream in the Western Hockey League. He had 25 friends and family members attending the game.

BOX SCORE