After 15 days of losing, it was 43 seconds that halted the Kraken’s free fall.
The Kraken’s six-game losing streak, which was snapped with a 5-2 win Sunday, could easily have extended to seven and beyond with some of the NHL’s toughest teams on their schedule in the next week-plus. The way they’d been playing, their fifth win felt beyond out of reach.
With the Capitals in town, a team that had lost in regulation just twice all season, the Kraken positioned themselves early for the same type of game; they were down 1-0 moments in, the timely save evading them.
This time, in the face of yet another formulaic defeat, the Kraken were finally released. Quick scores from Jaden Schwartz and Adam Larsson 43 seconds apart gave the Kraken their first lead in weeks, and then they extended it.
When asked after the game about what resonated this time, Calle Jarnkrok had a simple response: “Maybe because we’re sick and tired of losing.”
It sure felt like that in those 43 season-changing seconds and beyond, when the Kraken withstood a 23-shot onslaught from the Capitals in the third period to fight their way to their most important win yet.
“Tonight was one win,” said Kraken coach Dave Hakstol. “We had a good opponent come in on a back-to-back and I believe we did a good job.”
Before they could get there, the Kraken also came face-to-face with some revisionist history.
Seattle started Philipp Grubauer, their $5.9 million goalie who didn’t get the initial nod Friday and struggled in relief. On the other side, the Capitals sent out Vitek Vanecek, who, in another timeline, would have been a Kraken goalie.
The Kraken traded Vanecek back to the Capitals after selecting the 25-year-old goaltender in the expansion draft. He’s been the Capitals’ backup most of the season, and started Sunday after Ilya Samsonov picked up his second consecutive shutout on Saturday night in San Jose.
Vanecek stifled the first of the Kraken chances in his first game against the team that nearly sent him across the country.
There was a potential for symbolism of that decision 33 seconds after Vanecek made a save on Jamie Oleksiak right in front of the net, Grubauer was beat by his former teammate, Tom Wilson, to put the Kraken in a 1-0 hole for the fifth consecutive contest. It was the fourth time they had given up a goal on the first shot of a game. Seattle entered Sunday 2-9-0 when allowing the first goal.
Then, something happened the Kraken hadn’t experienced in weeks: key saves. Grubauer made the stops in the first period, and the Kraken, after a late first-period tally, had a legitimate chance to build a lead.
Another typical Kraken loss was on the table when Washington’s Connor McMichael had a partial breakaway, and the same old narrative flashed before Seattle’s eyes; the potential to fall into a 2-0 hole before the Kraken even had a chance to breathe.
This time Grubauer made the save, and this time the Kraken’s fate was different.
“I think after the first (save), then you have to make the next one and the next one,” said Grubauer. “It’s all about plays at the right time at the right moment and it doesn’t matter if it’s a save or blocking shots.”
This time, though, even when trailing in the first period, Seattle didn’t wither away under the pressure of chasing the game. The Kraken didn’t have to, once that one timely goal found its way in.
The Kraken hadn’t scored in the first 50 minutes over their last two games, but Jared McCann broke through, scoring on the power play, the fourth straight game the Kraken tallied on the man advantage.
In postgame news conferences, players have harped on just breaking through one time to get out of the rut. McCann’s goal was exactly what did just that.
“We kept fighting and we got one going into the break and I thought from there we felt good coming in with a lot of good things in the first and kept it going in the second,” said Larsson.
Grubauer stopped 18 consecutive Capitals shots and for the first time in 286:33 of game clock, the Kraken found themselves with a lead. Schwartz, with his seventh point in seven games, broke the curse with his goal.
The floodgates followed 43 seconds later, after game upon game of waiting to burst.
Larsson jumped into the rush and Yanni Gourde connected with him in transition to give Seattle a two-goal lead for the first time since it led Arizona in that ill-fated contest seven games ago.
If that didn’t feel like the world off the Kraken’s collective shoulders, the next one had to be its own metaphorical sigh of relief.
Late in the second, Jarnkrok tallied his first with the Kraken, his patience with the puck as strong as its been to finally be rewarded after he missed the first five games of the season in COVID-19 protocol.
Alex Ovechkin scored early in the third period to make it a 4-2 game. The Capitals charged with 23 shots on goal before Gourde tallied with an empty net with 28 seconds left. Grubauer made all the stops.
With all those stops made, the most important probably still goes back to the first period, where Grubauer’s stop on McMichael changed the course.
“We made a mistake and all of a sudden it’s a heck of a save at the right time,” said Hakstol. “That’s important.”
In the fifth game of the six-game homestand, the Kraken had finally generated a result to give the Climate Pledge crowd something to go home feeling good about.
“We still have a long way to go,” said Larsson. “This was one, let’s build on this and feel good about it, and remember how it feels. I think that’s important to remember how we played.”