On a night the Kraken paid tribute to their Climate Pledge Arena faithful, the player voted by fans as their favorite this season in awards handed out postgame had one last parting gift.
Yanni Gourde isn’t one given to fanfare or popularity contests, but said after this 3-0 shutout victory over the San Jose Sharks on Fan Appreciation Night that his penchant for smiling at opponents — especially while fighting with them — likely tipped the scales in his favor. And to show some appreciation back, Gourde opened the scoring in Friday’s affair with the only goal his team would need on a night goalie Chris Driedger logged the team’s third shutout and first ever at home.
“They’ve been with us the whole season and we really appreciate their support,” Gourde said. “Even when sometimes it was tough and we had some tough losses, they stuck with it and stuck with us and they were amazing for us again.”
The fans remained largely in their seats for nearly 20 minutes after the game as a plethora of awards were given out and players tossed stuff salmon replicas to the crowd. Besides the Fan Favorite Award, Gourde’s teammates also voted him the Guyle Fielder Award winner — named after the legendary Seattle Totems star — for perseverance, hustle and dedication to hockey.
Jared McCann received the Pete Muldoon Award — named after the former Seattle Metropolitans’ Stanley Cup champion coach — voted on by local media while goalie Philipp Grubauer took the Three Stars Award for most points accumulated during postgame star selections this season.
After Gourde’s goal opening goal, Adam Larsson made it 2-0 with 1:29 remaining in the period on a slap shot from the left point with fellow blueliner Jamie Oleksiak drawing the assist.
Matty Beniers added an assist on the play, giving him points in eight of the nine games since making his NHL debut. Between Beniers, Gourde and McCann, the Kraken appear to have some key offensive pieces moving forward as they try to generate more goals next season.
But this would prove one of the few nights in which two goals was enough for the Kraken, who later got a third on an empty-netter at the end by Victor Rask with Sharks goalie Kaapo Kahkonen pulled for the extra attacker. It was the fourth straight game the Kraken had gone up multiple goals but the first time they’d hold the advantage after the Sharks rebounded from being outshot 12-4 the opening frame and poured things on in the second.
The big test came with midway through the period when Larsson took an interference penalty with Oleksiak already in the box to put the Kraken down two men for 1:12.
But they killed off the 5-on-3, then the remaining 48 seconds of Larsson’s penalty to earn a partial standing ovation from the crowd while play continued on.
“I thought they were super loud,” Gourde said. “The cheering tonight in this game was amazing, and they had a lot of energy in this game.”
Dreidger became the first Kraken netminder other than Grubauer to notch a shutout this season, the third by the team.
“The fans were loud tonight, that’s for sure,” Driedger said after stopping 17 of 19 shots. “It was unbelievable. I mean, the effort from the guys there, blocking shots. Just all around, it was a 60-minute effort. … A lot of fun and Seattle fans, that’s probably the loudest it’s ever been in this building.”
Brandon Tanev, who hasn’t played since tearing up his knee back in December, spoke with media members before Friday’s game and talked about the importance of the team connecting with fans. Tanev has made public appearances on the team’s behalf while recovering from his injury.
“Obviously, the outcome was not the outcome any of us wanted,” Tanev said of a season in which his team struggled to find itself before starting to improve the past six weeks. “You play the game to win games, make the playoffs and push for the Stanley Cup. But it’s a season to grow. It’s an inaugural season here in Seattle.
“And the city, the fans, we can’t thank them enough. They’ve been extraordinary in this first season here in Seattle. So, to them, we really appreciate them night after night packing the building, making things loud and making it a great place to play here at Climate Pledge.
“So, I think the goal is to get better. You want to come back next year and push for the playoffs.”
The Kraken have played like a playoff team a handful of nights the past few months, taking down three postseason-bound squads in Colorado, Los Angeles and Nashville. They didn’t need to be at their playoff-level best against a San Jose team that’s struggled badly the second half and didn’t muster much of an attack until the Kraken already had a 2-0 lead after the opening period.
The Kraken reached the 60-point mark with the victory and can pass Philadelphia — who they trail by a point — into 29th spot with a victory in Winnipeg in Sunday’s season finale.
Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said his team played the way it needed to against a tired squad finishing back-to-back games. And in front of a revved up home crowd saluting their final Climate Pledge game this first season.
“For me, it’s about that connection with the fans,” he said. “We’ve talked about working to build a foundation in a lot of different areas and for sure building that connection with the city, the community and the fans is a very important one.”
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