NHL playoffs: Kraken win inaugural postseason series, dethrone Avalanche

Seattle's first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs should already be considered a smashing success.

The Kraken defeated the Avalanche in Game 7 to eliminate the reigning Stanley Cup champs. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Kraken defeated the Avalanche in Game 7 to eliminate the reigning Stanley Cup champs. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Just hours after the Florida Panthers pulled off an historic upset of the Boston Bruins, the Seattle Kraken took their turn knocking out one of the NHL's juggernauts with a 2-1 Game 7 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday in their inaugural playoff series.

Oliver Bjorkstrand scored both goals for the Kraken to send the reigning Stanley Cup champions home early, while Mikko Rantanen countered with the Avalanche's lone tally.

Bjorkstrand was a force all night, potting his two goals less than four minutes apart in the second period. He had several additional scoring chances throughout the game, finishing with six shots on goal while hitting the post three times.

Seattle got a lucky break early in the third period when Nathan MacKinnon appeared to score the tying goal on a wicked one-timer. The marker was called back after video review clearly showed forward Artturi Lehkonen was offside on Colorado's entry into the offensive zone.

The Kraken will play the Dallas Stars — another Central Division power — in the second round.

Despite their underdog status, the wild-card Kraken never appeared overmatched against the Avalanche thanks to a deep forward group and some timely goaltending from Philipp Grubauer. The veteran netminder significantly elevated his play in this series after an underwhelming 2022-23 campaign in which he posted an .895 save percentage in 39 games.

Seattle was also able to overcome the loss of 40-goal man and leading scorer Jared McCann, who was knocked out of the series after a controversial hit from star Colorado defenseman Cale Makar in Game 4. Makar was suspended one game for that hit.

For the Avalanche, the Game 7 defeat marked the conclusion of an up-and-down campaign that ultimately ended in disappointment. MacKinnon and Co. started the season with a whimper and struggled to find consistency until the calendar flipped to 2023. They sat at 20-17-3 on Jan. 12 before a six-game win streak turned their season around. They also entered the playoffs on a tear, winning 16 of their final 19 contests to earn the Central Division crown.

Colorado notably played the entire season without captain Gabriel Landeskog, who underwent knee surgery in October. Jared Bednar's group was also missing Valeri Nichushkin for the majority of the first-round series after the winger was reportedly involved in an incident involving police at the team’s Seattle hotel.

Veterans Josh Manson, Darren Helm and Andrew Cogliano were other Avalanche regulars sidelined for parts of the series.