Kraken wins 1st playoff series, ousting champion Avs

Kraken wins 1st playoff series, ousting champion Avs

DENVER — Oliver Bjorkstrand scored twice, Philipp Grubauer excelled at stopping 33 shots and the Seattle Kraken eliminated defending Stanley Cup champions Colorado Avalanche with a 2-1 win in Game 7 on Sunday night.

According to NHL statistics, The Kraken became the first expansion team to defeat the reigning Stanley Cup champions in their first playoff series.

“I think they’re about as competitive as any other team we’ve played against,” said Avalanche coach Jared Bednar. “They are deep and every line is the same.”

Björkstrand scored a goal from an accidental deflection – the puck was hit by a stick and glove – and another with a liner past goaltender Alexandar Georgiev, who banged against the post. Seattle took the lead in every game in the series.

“Within the group we believe in ourselves,” said Björkstrand in his bench interview on TNT after the win. “It was like that in all series. … We knew what we had to do to get here and win the game.”

Next up for sophomore Kraken is a second-round series against the Dallas Stars, which opens Tuesday night in Texas.

“They play the way they were taught to play and Grubauer has been amazing in that series,” said Bednar. “They make it difficult to create chances. They are a 100-point team. They are a good team.”

Grubauer, who played for the Avalanche for three seasons, finished the streak against his former teammates with 231 saves and a 2.68 clean sheet average.

“He was incredible. He stopped every shot he saw. He was excellent back there,” Seattle forward Yanni Gourde told TNT outside the dressing room. “He was our rock and there’s no way we can win this series if he’s not there.”

Mikko Rantanen was credited with a power-play goal for Colorado after a Nathan MacKinnon shot hit him and went inside. MacKinnon appeared to score early in the third period to level at 2, but Seattle challenged the game and the goal was disallowed because Colorado was flagged for offside.

The Avalanche drew Georgiev with less than two minutes left but failed to level. It allowed the Kraken to complete another franchise first: a celebration of the series’ conclusion.

“We succeeded when we played them tight and easy,” said Bjorkstrand of the Avalanche. “When they were at their best they had a lot of space. Success came from moving our feet and placing pucks deep.”

Colorado has now lost its last six Game 7s. And Seattle’s victory continued a historic street team trend this postseason. According to a study by ESPN Stats & Information, the away teams are 31-18 for the most away wins in the opening round since the NHL went four rounds of a seven-game series in 1987.

“I’m really happy for the boys and their commitment. They deserve it,” said Seattle coach Dave Hakstol. “Everyone has been waiting for this group to fall away and disappear and we never did. We have substance and our team played very united and they worked hard for it. We earned it when we became a playoff team.”

Both teams lost players for the series to hard hits. Jared McCann stopped playing after scoring a hit on the boards in Game 4 of Cale Makar that resulted in a one-game suspension (Game 5) for the Avalanche defender. Colorado was without Andrew Cogliano in Game 7 after sustaining a neck fracture following a hit by Kraken forward Jordan Eberle, who was not given extra discipline.

MacKinnon wowed the crowd on Sunday with what appeared to be an equal goal. But it was taken off the board after a foul as Artturi Lehkonen was shut out in the zone before the puck got in. It was the second time in the series that the Kraken used a challenge to negate an Avalanche score.

The Kraken also emptied the capacity crowd by doing what they had done in every game during the series: score first.

Björkstrand went without a goal in all series, and in the second half Björkstrand was credited with a goal, which then threw Alex Newhook’s stick off the Ben Meyers glove into the goal. Almost four minutes later, Björkstrand scored again to make it 2-0 from a run over the side.

Björkstrand almost scored a hat trick but his shot late in the game hit the post.

“I didn’t want to go out and not be able to sleep at night because I wasn’t performing well,” explained Bjorkstrand. “Some nights you just feel the puck better, and I feel like this is just one of those nights.”

With a 27.3 second lead in the second period, MacKinnon lined a shot that ricocheted off Rantanen and went past Grubauer. MacKinnon’s assist for the game was his 100th career playoff point. He joins the company of Joe Sakic (188) and Peter Forsberg (159) as the only Avalanche player to reach the 100-point milestone in the postseason.

Georgiev finished the game with 25 saves.

The ailing Avalanche were absent in Game 7, with forwards Darren Helm (upper body), Cogliano and Valeri Nichushkin (personal reasons) and defenseman Josh Manson (lower body).

They have been without captain Gabriel Landeskog all season after he underwent knee surgery in October.

“A tough year overall,” said MacKinnon. “Of course we will say everything right during the season, but it’s hard to miss the boys. … We played a really great game, just couldn’t get on the net.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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