(WC1) Kraken at (1C) Avalanche
Western Conference First Round, Game 1
10 p.m. ET; ESPN, SN360, TVAS, ALT, ROOT-NW
DENVER — The Seattle Kraken will debut in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round at Ball Arena on Tuesday, embracing the underdog role against the Colorado Avalanche, the defending Stanley Cup champions.
“I think we love that,” Kraken rookie forward Matty Beniers said. “That’s kind of a fun way to be. You’re the underdog. You’ve got no expectations. Everyone thinks we’re going to lose, so it’s kind of fun to play like that, coming into this building and playing against the defending champs and [take] a run at it.”
Seattle, which joined the NHL last season, can become the 13th expansion team to win its first playoff game and the seventh to do it on the road.
“We feel like we’ve got nothing to lose,” Kraken forward Jared McCann said. “Obviously, we’re playing against the defending Stanley Cup champions, and they obviously have a great lineup. But I feel like we do too. It’s going to be a good series.”
[RELATED: Complete Avalanche vs. Kraken series coverage]
Seattle has several players with playoff experience, including seven who have won the Stanley Cup.
“It’s an absolute grind,” said Kraken forward Yanni Gourde, who won the Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2020 and 2021. “It’s tough. It’s mentally exhausting. It’s physically exhausting. But it’s worth every sacrifice. Every battle is worth it in the end, because raising that Stanley Cup is a feeling that you don’t get very often, and it’s very special.”
Philipp Grubauer is expected to start in goal for the Kraken. He has played 33 playoff games, 29 of them with the Avalanche from 2018-21, going 19-11 with a 2.50 goals-against average, a .913 save percentage and two shutouts.
Alexandar Georgiev is expected to make his first playoff start for the Avalanche. He has appeared in two playoff games, each in relief for the New York Rangers last season.
Teams that win Game 1 are 507-235 (63.8 percent) winning the best-of-7 series, including 8-7 (53.3 percent) last season.
Here are 3 keys for Game 1:
1. Makar’s return
Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar will return after missing the final seven regular-season games because of a lower-body injury. He said Monday he is as close to 100 percent as he can be right now and will have to manage his body throughout the playoffs.
Makar is the reigning winner of the Norris Trophy, voted the NHL’s best defenseman, and Conn Smythe Trophy, voted the most valuable player of the playoffs. He led Colorado with 29 points (eight goals, 21 assists) in 20 playoff games last season.
“Obviously it’s great for our group to have the best ‘D’ in the League, one of the best players in the League, back,” Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon said. “Yeah, it’s definitely a big lift for us.”
2. Seattle’s strengths
The Avalanche have the advantage in elite skill with MacKinnon, Makar and forward Mikko Rantanen, but the Kraken have speed, depth and physicality.
Seattle must play to its strengths.
“It’s not sitting back,” Beniers said. “They’ve got a lot of skill guys, and if we sit back and let them have the time and space that they want, they’ll make plays and score goals. If we’re up and on them and not giving them any time and space, physical on them, getting them angry, I’d say that we’re kind of a pesky team, and that would work to our advantage.”
Seattle must stay disciplined to keep the game 5-on-5 as much as possible.
The Kraken ranked first in 5-on-5 goals in the regular season with 209, the main reason they tied the New Jersey Devils for fourth in goals with 289. They tied the Calgary Flames and Carolina Hurricanes for 19th on the power play at 19.8 percent.
The Avalanche tied the Carolina Hurricanes for 15th in 5-on-5 goals with 174, but they were sixth on the power play at 24.5 percent.
“Stay out of the box,” McCann said. “They’ve got a deadly power play, obviously. … Can’t give them a chance.”
Kraken projected lineup
Jared McCann — Matty Beniers — Jordan Eberle
Jaden Schwartz — Alex Wennberg — Morgan Geekie
Eeli Tolvanen — Yanni Gourde — Oliver Bjorkstrand
Brandon Tanev — Ryan Donato — Daniel Sprong
Vince Dunn — Adam Larsson
Jamie Oleksiak — Will Borgen
Carson Soucy — Justin Schultz
Scratched: Cale Fleury, Jaycob Megna, Jesper Froden, Tye Kartye
Injured: Andre Burakovsky (lower body), Joonas Donskoi (upper body), John Hayden (lower body)
Avalanche projected lineup
Evan Rodrigues — Nathan MacKinnon — Mikko Rantanen
Artturi Lehkonen — J.T. Compher — Valeri Nichushkin
Matt Nieto — Lars Eller — Denis Malgin
Alex Newhook — Andrew Cogliano — Logan O’Connor
Devon Toews — Cale Makar
Samuel Girard — Josh Manson
Bowen Byram — Jack Johnson
Scratched: Kurtis MacDermid, Erik Johnson, Brad Hunt, Darren Helm, Ben Meyers
Injured: Gabriel Landeskog (knee)
Sprong, who missed practice Saturday and Sunday because of an undisclosed injury, will be a game-time decision. … Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said Cogliano took maintenance this morning and said, “we’ll see whether he’s available tonight.” The forward missed the final game of the regular season because of an upper-body injury. … Makar and Manson each is expected to play. Makar missed the final seven games of the season and Manson the final 23, each because of a lower-body injury.