- Ryan S. Clark is an NHL reporter for ESPN.
SEATTLE — Needing a response to keep their season alive, the Seattle Kraken found exactly that in a 6-3 series-tying win Saturday against the Dallas Stars in Game 6 of this Western Conference semifinal at Climate Pledge Arena.
A number of items allowed the Kraken to break out for six goals, prompt the Stars to pull star goaltender Jake Oettinger and ultimately force a Game 7 slated for Monday at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.
For the Stars, a Game 7 win would see them advance to the Western Conference Final for the second time in four seasons. As for the Kraken, winning Game 7 would see the second-year franchise reach the conference finals for the first time in team history.
“We were ready tonight. I feel like the last couple games, they were the ready team at the start,” said Kraken winger Eeli Tolvanen, who finished with a goal and three points. “I think that was the big key today. All four lines were ready to play and showed up.”
Gaining some sense of control was a challenge for the Kraken throughout their losses in Games 4 and 5. The Kraken struggled in 5-on-5 play, as they failed to even meet their averages in certain offensive categories such as shots per 60, scoring chances per 60 and high-danger scoring chances per 60.
That wasn’t an issue Saturday. Having that control was how the Kraken staked themselves to what at one point was a three-goal lead. They held possession like a grudge with a shot-share percentage of 63.3 percent while owning at least a 10-shot differential throughout the latter stages of the first period.
Yanni Gourde gave the Kraken a 1-0 when he took a drop pass from Tolvanen and skated in for a point-blank chance that was initially stopped by Oettinger before Gourde recovered his rebound and scored with 11:01 left.
Only for the Stars to tie the game 31 seconds later on a goal from Mason Marchment.
Even though the suddenness of Marchment’s game-tying goal was jarring, an argument could be made the power-play goal that allowed the Kraken to regain the lead was just as much of a contrast.
Capitalizing on the extra-skater advantage was a challenge in the regular season which is why the Kraken were 19th with a 19.8 percent success rate. The postseason has not seen much of a deviation with the Kraken converting 14.7 percent of their chances, which ranks 14th out of 16 teams. It’s also the lowest conversion rate for teams still alive in the playoffs.
What they did against the Stars was show the sort of fluid movement that has eluded them at times both in the regular season and in the playoffs. They found the sort of connectivity that set up Jordan Eberle to get the puck at the net front and elevate his shot above what was a sprawling Oettinger for a 2-1 lead with less than four minutes left.
“I thought we played aggressive, and we also played smart,” said Jordan Eberle, who finished with two goals and three points. “We tried to limit their chances but also stay on our toes. We had nothing to lose. Obviously, backs are against the wall so we’re going to have the same effort in Game 7, and we know they’re going to have their best. That’s all you can ask for.”
Tolvainen scored a little more than 90 seconds into the second to push the lead to 3-1 before rookie Tye Kartye, who the Kraken signed as an undrafted free agent, pushed it to a 4-1 edge which forced Stars coach Pete DeBoer to pull Oettinger.
“We didn’t give him any help and this is a grind,” DeBoer said. “At that point we’re looking for a spark for the team, looking down the road to make sure Jake’s got energy, the fresher goalie for Game 7, all those things come into play.”
It was the second time this series the Kraken forced Oettinger into an early exit. The first time came in Game 3 when he allowed five goals over 40 minutes and finished with a .706 save percentage in what was ultimately a 7-2 loss.
On Saturday, Oettinger lasted less than 25 minutes with DeBoer electing to use backup Scott Wedgewood to finish the game. Oettinger finished with a .778 save percentage which was still higher than his effort in Game 3 but his goals-against average for the game was 9.84.
“Getting back to the pace we knew we needed to play with,” Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said in response to a question about what changed in front of Oettinger Saturday. “Getting traffic. Find a rebound. That’s a good step for us.”
The Stars allowed 12 high-danger chances in 5-on-5 play — the same amount they allowed in their Game 5 victory on Thursday. It’s just that the average distance for the four goals Oettinger allowed was just over 15 feet with the furthest being Kartye’s wrist shot from 31 feet, according to IcyData.
“It was just the mindset to get (inside the Stars’ defense) and we lacked a little bit of that before,” Tolvanen said. “It was great to see we can flip the switch and do things.”
Dallas would get its goals. Joe Pavelski scored in the second and after Seattle’s Matty Beniers scored to restore that three-goal lead, the Stars’ Joel Kiviranta kept it within two goals.
Although Pavelski scored a power-play goal to cut the lead in half and Joel Kiviranta scored later in the third with more than 10 minutes left for the Kraken to hold a 5-3 lead.
Yet even with those three goals, the Kraken found a way to prevent the Stars from having the sort of three-and-four goal periods that have been one of the trademarks of this series.
Then there’s this detail that may have been lost in the Kraken’s victory.
Stars forward Roope Hintz, who entered Friday tied for the league lead in playoff points, was held to zero points but still got four shots on goal. The Stars top line, which is anchored by Hintz, also features Pavelski and 100-point scorer Jason Robertson. The trio finished with zero points in 5-on-5 play with Robertson getting the assist on Pavelski’s power-play goal.
“It was just getting back to who we are,” Hakstol said. “Those guys are tough to play against if you’re a little bit off. They had a big say for sure the entire series but over the last few games, they’ve elevated, and we haven’t been able to match that. Don’t get me wrong, they had their looks tonight. You look back through the chances and you’re going to see those guys involved. By us, it’s got to be by committee and it was. Everybody did their part and when we can have that type of rhythm, it allows us to have good energy, good pace and that makes us hard to play against.”
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