What ESPN NHL analysts make of Kraken pushing defending champion Avs

Apr 26, 2023, 12:32 PM | Updated: Apr 27, 2023, 10:40 am

Seattle Kraken Playoffs...

Jordan Eberle of the Seattle Kraken celebrates his overtime-winning goal against the Colorado Avalanche on April 24, 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Seattle Kraken came away with a big 3-2 overtime win on Monday to even their playoff series with the Colorado Avalanche at two games a piece.

Seattle Kraken win 3-2 on Eberle’s OT goal, even series with Avs

The Avs won the Stanley Cup last year while the Kraken are in the first postseason in franchise history, so naturally, few thought Seattle could win the series. Heck, some thought this would be a one-sided affair.

That hasn’t been the case so far, and ESPN’s Bob Wischusen and Brian Boucher, who will call Wednesday’s game from Denver, hit the Seattle Sports airwaves to discuss what they’re seeing in this series.

Here’s what Wischusen told Brock and Salk and Boucher told Bump and Stacy on Wednesday.

Bob Wischusen: Seattle Kraken look ‘so comfortable’

Wischusen is excited in general that Seattle fans get to “legitimately experience” the chaos and wonder that is playoff hockey. And many Seattle fans have been introduced in a wild way given how close the series has been so far.

Additionally, Wischusen feels like the Avalanche are a bit surprised by what’s transpired so far.

“We were just having a little production meeting about our game tonight, and we’re saying if this game gets to the third period tonight with no Cale Makar and it’s a one-goal game or Colorado is behind, we want some close-up face shots of the Colorado players on their bench, because you’ll see it. You’ll see the tension,” he said. “It will be ‘cut it with a knife.’ Because I think of all of the first-round series, one of the ones that most people were kind of looking past it like, ‘It’s the defending Stanley Cup champions … and it’s the first time Seattle has ever been in the playoffs. This will be over in five.’ Well, maybe not.

“It might go a little differently. They’ll be nervous inside that building tonight again if Seattle scores first again. We root for drama when we cover these events, and the Kraken have given us an immense amount of drama in this series.”

The Avalanche are the “more talented team overall,” Wischusen said, which is evidenced by the fact that they won two games after going down early.

“But candidly, I did not think that this series was going to go past five, maybe six (games),” he said. “I thought it was going to have the feel of alright, Colorado is dominating the series, but Seattle will steal a game and maybe two. That’s not the way it’s gone at all.”

So what is Wischusen seeing from the Kraken that’s impressed him?

“I think just based on the eye test, the Kraken looking so comfortable in these games and they’re kind of evenly played has me immensely impressed, I’ll tell you that,” he said. “I did not think that they were going to be this good, nor did I ever think there was going to be a time in the series where you sit there and say, ‘You know, they could legitimately win this.’ Boy, if they pull off an upset on the road again tonight? Of course they could win the series.”

Brian Boucher: Grubauer ‘been great’ so far

Boucher is a former NHL goalie, so naturally part of his conversation with Bump and Stacy centered around the play of Kraken goalie Philipp Grubauer.

Grubauer’s first two seasons in Seattle didn’t go as well as planned, with Boucher calling them a “mixed review.”

Gruabauer joined the Kraken as a high-priced free agent pickup ahead of the inaugural season, and Boucher thought he put a lot of pressure on himself because there were high expectations around the team.

“I think for Grubauer, he kind of shouldered that responsibility, and it didn’t go well for him,” Boucher said.

This past year, Boucher thought Grubauer “started out shaky,” but ultimately worked hard and turned things around and finished the regular season on a high note. He’s carried that over so far into the playoffs, and he’s been a key part in Seattle being tied 2-2 with his former team.

“I think if you look at his play after Jan. 1, it was much better. I think he finished the year very good in the last five or six starts. And that’s what you have to hold in your mind when you enter a playoff series,” Boucher said. “You don’t need to look at the last two years. Look at what just happened recently, know that your game has been trending in the right direction. And truthfully, he’s been great in this series. There has not been one loss where it’s been on Philipp Grubauer.”

Grubauer has given the Kraken the goaltending they need, Boucher said, to compete with a “star-studded” Avalanche roster.

“And the fact that he’s got some internal motivation against his former club, I think, doesn’t hurt,” he said. “He certainly has done a great job and they’re going to need him to be great here now as the series goes to a best-of-three. If you’re a Seattle fan, you hope he can steal one here in Colorado tonight.”

So far, the Kraken have scored first in all four games. How important is that?

“I think it helps them big time. I mean, I know they haven’t won all the games that they’ve scored first in, but it most definitely allows you to play a game where you feel confident and you’re not running around chasing it and you’re not trying to play catch up,” Boucher said. “So I think it’s important that they do score first.”

What’s more important than that, Boucher said, is the “eye test” early in the game.

“I think what stands out when I watch Seattle play and they’re playing well is the forecheck,” he said.

That forecheck plays into one of the key storylines for Game 5, which is that top Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar is suspended for the game for his hit that knocked top Seattle scorer Jared McCann out of the series.

Avs’ Makar suspended 1 game for hit that injured Seattle Kraken winger McCann

“When they’re forechecking hard and they’re taking time and space away from Colorado’s defense to break out – and keep in mind for the Avalanche tonight, they’re missing a huge part of their back end in Cale Makar. This is a huge opportunity for the Kraken to grab a lead in this series,” Boucher said. “With Makar being out and the forecheck that has been ever present in the games that they’ve won, if Seattle can bring that forecheck and really keep Colorado hemmed in their own zone … if they’re doing that, I think that is the recipe for success in this game here tonight, and quite frankly, for the series against Colorado.”

If the Kraken get a win on Wednesday and return home Friday with a 3-2 lead, even with Makar back for that game, that’s putting a lot of pressure on an Avs team that Boucher thinks isn’t quite the same group as last year when they won it all.

“They’re missing several key components to that championship team,” he said. “Putting a seed of doubt in there with a win here in Game 5 can go a long way in potentially writing this upset script that could happen. But it’s all in the forecheck, it’s all in the pressure. If they do it, I think they have the opportunity to win Game 5.”

Brock & Salk react to Makar’s ‘dirty’ hit on McCann, how Seattle Kraken handled it

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What ESPN NHL analysts make of Kraken pushing defending champion Avs