LAS VEGAS — Kraken players not yet born the last time the city they represent boasted a professional hockey team had taken the ice here Tuesday night to showbiz glitz and star-studded pageantry.
The pregame festivities ahead of the franchise’s inaugural contest at T-Mobile Arena featured a hologram of a supposed giant Kraken curling its tentacles through cracked ice only to be slain by a lone Golden Knight costumed figure. And for a while in the opening minutes of this eventual 4-3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, it appeared the actual game had picked up right where the gimmicky preamble left off and the Kraken might get buried in a deep-water tomb beneath the ice surface.
“We had a lot of good chances at the start and I think it easily could have gone the other way,’’ Kraken forward Ryan Donato said. “But I think we gave them too many Grade A opportunities right away and it came back to bite us.’’
There was little to indicate this inaugural contest would see a valiant Kraken comeback and come down to a disputed Chandler Stephenson skate-directed goal at 8:33 of the third period. The play was upheld by video review even though the puck was clearly directed in by the Vegas center’s skate — allowable under the rules as long as there’s no kicking motion.
By the time that went in, the Kraken had overcome an early 3-0 deficit and showed why its architects believe — when the team’s hard-working, quick-moving system is followed — it can go toe-to-toe with the NHL’s finest units. Donato had triggered the whole thing with the first goal in team history, backhanding a goalmouth scramble in behind Golden Knights netminder Robin Lehner with 8:28 remaining in the second period, followed just 1:12 later by a Jared McCann goal on a shot through traffic to make it a 3-2 game.
The comeback was capped just before the eight-minute mark of the third when Morgan Geekie carried the puck into the right faceoff circle and fired a wristshot past Lehner to the short side.
“We just came together,’’ Donato said. “We obviously hadn’t been in that situation before. But we’ve all played on different teams and been in that situation on other teams. We knew as soon as we got one, the others would come.”
Some of the Golden Knights felt Geekie got too carried away with a celebratory stick twirl after his goal. Vegas winger Mark Stone told reporters that Geekie was also “staring down” the Golden Knights’ bench. “I guess don’t fire us up,” Stone said.
Before those comments from Stone, Geekie gave praise to his teammates for hanging in the contest.
“I think it kind of speaks to our character as a team,’’ Geekie said. “We knew they were a good team coming in here and they kind of paved the way. But I like the way we brought tonight and I think we got better as the game went on.’’
This was the first pro game for a Seattle team since the Western Hockey League Totems closed up shop for good in 1975; at least one of its former players, 82-year-old Howie Hughes — author of a WHL championship clinching goal in 1967 — had flown here with his daughter for Tuesday’s game just like so many other Seattle-area residents clad in Kraken gear throughout the arena.
The most recent Seattle major pro hockey team, the Metropolitans, last played a game in 1924 and won their lone 1917 Stanley Cup championship before anybody watching Tuesday could possibly have seen those games live. And that’s the ultimate pressure and responsibility the Kraken faced in this one: Knowing how long it’s been since the world’s highest-level hockey was represented in the Emerald City and wanting to do that honor justice.
Geekie admitted he’d been “definitely, 100 percent” nervous as the pregame ceremonies unfolded, giant Kraken images were slain and the contest began with the lethal Vegas transition game catching the visitors off guard. It happened a couple of times before Max Pacioretty snapped the game’s first goal past an overcommitted Philipp Grubauer from the left faceoff circle just 3:10 into the contest, followed by a Vince Dunn turnover and a Jonathan Marchessault goal that made it 2-0 by the 6:36 mark.
Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said his team had plenty to do with momentum swinging the home side’s way.
“Some of those momentum swings came on Vegas’ transition, and we fed that transition a bit too much.’’
The Kraken wound up holding the home side to just three shots the first 15 minutes, but two of them had found the net. It didn’t help that Brandon Tanev had seen a short-handed breakaway chance roll off his stick, or that Pacioretty’s second goal early in the second period made it 3-0.
But the Kraken, unlike their giant-sized likeness in the pregame ceremonies, weren’t done yet. And they battled into the final minute of the game, nearly connecting on some close-in chances with Grubauer pulled for the extra attacker.
Hakstol disagreed Stephenson’s winning goal was legal but said it wasn’t his call.
“I thought it was a kicking motion but there’s gray area in terms of those calls.”
And on a night the Kraken also confronted the emotion of making history, its own finishing kick — though not as decisive as Stephenson’s — wasn’t the worst debut for a team that wants to be known as relentless.