ESPN’s Callahan: Kraken have been ‘matchup nightmare’ in playoffs
May 10, 2023, 12:00 PM | Updated: 12:04 pm
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
The Seattle Kraken travel back to Dallas to take on the Stars in Game 5 after their second-round series evened out Tuesday to 2-2 with a 6-3 loss – tied for the most goals allowed by the Kraken this postseason.
Despite Tuesday’s disappointing result, it’s worth noting that Game 4 was the fifth home game for the Kraken this playoff run, a number far more than most pundits expected for the newly-formed franchise.
“To be honest with you, I’d be the first to say obviously no,” ESPN NHL analyst Ryan Callahan said Tuesday to Seattle Sports’ Bump and Stacy when asked if he’d expected the Kraken’s playoff success. “I didn’t expect them to play the way they have and had as much success as they had, especially against that Colorado team, and I understand Colorado didn’t have a lot of their top guns and it wasn’t the same exact team as last year, but that’s a very experienced team.”
The Kraken beat the Colorado Avalanche in seven games in the first round, eliminating last year’s Stanley Cup champions. Seattle played a part in Colorado losing those “top guns,” signing away Avalanche franchise forward Andre Burakovsky (also last offseason, forward Nico Sturm left the Avs for the San Jose Sharks and goaltender Darcy Kuemper went to the Washington Capitols). Colorado became the third team in the last five years to fail to win a playoff round the season after winning the title.
How did Seattle pull it off and move on to face the Stars?
“I’ll admit, I didn’t know it was going to be like this and I’m pleasantly surprised with the way (the Kraken) are playing,” said Callahan, who played 13 NHL seasons with the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning. “But that’s what makes this so special about what Seattle is doing. It’s how much they’ve played together as a team, and I think that’s part of why they’re having this success. They’re a bit of a matchup nightmare because you could get contributions throughout that lineup, so who do you play your top D against? Who’s your shutdown line against?”
Callahan compared this Kraken team to the Carolina Hurricanes as of late due to the team’s discipline, speed, consistent coaching, and overall aggression on the ice. Those two teams have something in common, too: Kraken general manager Ron Francis was Carolina’s GM from 2014 to 2018.
“I know Carolina hasn’t won but has had success in the playoffs and some deep runs,” Callahan said, “so I think that’s the best comparison I can make from a team that’s gone deep in the playoffs.”
Carolina has made the playoffs five years in a row under coach Rod Brind’Amour after failing to make the postseason the nine previous years. The Hurricanes have won five playoff rounds in that span.
The Kraken finished the 2022-23 regular season with just a 22-19-4 record at home, while Dallas went 27-13-5 on the road. The Stars retook home-ice advantage for the final three potential games with Tuesday’s Game 4 win, but the Kraken’s blitzing offense – 4.3 goals scored in the second round compared to 3.5 in the regular season – has been the foundation for this team to keep pace against Dallas’ third-ranked defense.
“I think the way they just come at you relentlessly, there’s no break from the first line to the fourth line. It’s in your face, it’s fast,” Callahan said. “And also, they’re scoring from everywhere. It’s frustrating as you’re playing against the team that you look throughout their lineup in (Seattle’s 7-2 win in Game 3), they had seven goals from seven different goal scorers. Like, what do you key on? What do you try to shut down?”
The NHL has been full of “Cinderella runs” from playoff underdogs in recent seasons, including the Vegas Golden Knights – the last expansion team before Seattle debuted in 2021 – making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals in its inaugural season, the Montreal Canadians losing the Stanley Cup to Tampa Bay after a 24-21-11 season in the league’s COVID-shortened season, and the Los Angeles Kings making history nearly a decade ago by becoming the first eighth-seeded team in professional sports to claim the championship. So why not the Kraken?
“It’s a dangerous thing when a team believes in their system and believes in each other and are on this little bit of a magical run where nobody really picked them,” Callahan said. “I think people would be lying to you if they said, ‘I had Seattle going to the conference finals.’ It’s that us against the world mentality I think they’re running with and having success with.”
Listen to the full Bump and Stacy conversation with Callahan in the podcast below.
More on the Seattle Kraken
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• Bump and Stacy issue their sports apologies, including to Kraken’s Grubauer
• 3 Things on Seattle Kraken: Insight on now, what’s next and the future
• TNT’s Kenny Albert dives into Seattle Kraken playoff run