Kraken are pushing for 1st playoff berth, but they’re not new to this

Feb 21, 2023, 2:40 PM
Kraken Canucks...
Andre Burakovsky, Alex Wennberg and Jordan Eberle of the Kraken celebrate a goal against Vancouver. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The 4-0 Kraken loss in San Jose on Monday was certainly a downer, especially when you consider the tight playoff race in the West, making any missed points feel like the end of the world. Fortunately for Seattle no ground was lost Monday, but an opportunity to move up in the race was missed.

A playoff race can be like that.

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Managing emotions and keeping focus are just as key this time of year, as key as winning points is. This is new territory for the second-year franchise but for most of Seattle’s players, this is old hat.

“You gotta manage your emotion,” Kraken forward Jared McCann said. “Obviously, we’ve got guys like (Andre) Burakovsky and Yanni (Gourde) with (Stanley) Cups, right? We have that leadership for when we need to kind of get going or we need to calm down a bit. We have that with them.”

McCann knows what he’s talking about. Prior to joining the Kraken, he played on three Pittsburgh Penguins teams that managed the end of the season and got into the playoffs.

He’s not alone.

Almost every guy on the roster has been on a playoff team before and six have won the Stanley Cup. It may not give them an edge over other teams but it helps. Nobody’s eyes should be too wide open.

“It’s critical for us,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “Individually we have a lot of guys that have done it and what we’ve proven over the year is that we’re a good team, guys’ give-a-(care) meters are high, they play hard for one another… Individually there’s a lot of guys in that room that have been through this. And now, as we go through this season, I mean that’s part of being a newer franchise in year 2. You know, you got to be the first group to do things, so somebody’s got to be that group. Pretty sure our group feels like they want it to be them.”

Getting in the playoffs is on the mind of every player on every team, but it means a little extra to the Kraken. They would be the first in franchise history.

“This would be a fun team to win with, great city to win in,” Jordan Eberle said. “Like, the fans here are unbelievable. They’re loud. They’re passionate. You’ve seen the Seahawks and Mariners playoffs; we just want to continue that tradition. I’ve been a Seahawks fan for a long time now and been to a lot of games. That’s one of the loudest stadiums in the league. We expect that passion once playoffs come.”

It wouldn’t be as momentous as the Vegas Golden Knights making the playoffs and Stanley Cup Final in their first year, but the Kraken getting to the postseason in their second season would be notable. There are franchises in the NHL that have been around a lot longer than Seattle that struggle to make the postseason (looking at you Buffalo Sabres), so getting there as fast as the Kraken have a chance to is something.

It’s a sharp contrast from last season where Seattle struggled from the onset and was closer to the bottom of the league’s standings than it was thinking about the playoffs – queue an incredulous Jim Mora mentioning the playoffs.

“Completely different,” Eberle said comparing last year to this. “This is what makes hockey fun. I mean, you come down to the stretch and you obviously have an opportunity to make the playoffs and then ultimately get there. That’s the ultimate goal. Obviously, this is the fun part, you want to be playing meaningful games, but the goal is to get to the real fun part and that’s playoff hockey. So, for me, that’s why you play this game.”

How to navigate the stretch run

There are going to be ups and downs. A loss like Monday’s feels heavier than maybe it was. The same goes for wins, however.

“It’s cliche to say it, you have to be just one game at a time,” McCann said. “It really is. You got to focus on every single game because every single game matters. It really does. It could dictate whether you have one point, or miss it by one point, you got to bear down every single night. You need to realize that and if you do, you’re gonna be a deadly team.”

Monday’s disappointment has to be put behind the Kraken. The focus now shifts to Thursday’s big matchup with the Boston Bruins at Climate Pledge Arena. They must look at that game without thinking about Sunday’s equally big game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“It’s a process, it’s just not one game,” said Yanni Gourde, who owns two rings won with the Tampa Bay Lightning. “It’s every game that is huge, you can’t get too far ahead. You can’t get too low. Just gotta be in the moment, you got to be present, and you got to look at the full focus of the challenge ahead.”

That’s just solid advice for life, but also for playoff races.

To scoreboard watch or not to

For fans, scoreboard watching becomes a regular routine this time of year. Kraken fans will know if Vegas or the Los Angeles Kings won. They’re watching what teams who are chasing Seattle, like the Edmonton Oilers, are up to and if they’re getting closer.

Do the players do the same? Is that healthy?

“A lot of guys don’t,” Eberle said. “I like to look at standings and see where you’re at. You like to get an idea of what’s going on. But at the end of the day, the biggest thing is you just want to control your own destiny and you don’t want to put it up to other teams to do that for you.”

The last part there may be the key. Nothing wrong with seeing what’s going on but none of it is going to matter if you’re not taking care of your own business.

“Worry about the Kraken,” McCann said. “You can’t get worried about other teams. You can’t control any of that stuff. You just control what your team does.”

If you’re watching or not, stay focused.

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter,” Gourde said. “Because if you want to be successful… you got to get better every single day. It doesn’t matter what the other team does. If you get better every single day and you get better as a group, then you’re coming in, you’re gonna go and don’t worry about standings, you’re gonna go into playoffs and then you’re gonna be fine.”

The Kraken are in a playoff spot now with a lot of hockey still to play. There will be ups and downs, but the key is to remember what was once famously written in a book, “Don’t panic and always carry a towel.”

Who can step up for the Kraken with Andre Burakovsky out of action?

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