They faced a lot of adversity, scrambling three players to Las Vegas on a private plane after they cleared COVID-19 protocol, walking into one of the most raucous venues in the NHL, and playing one of the best teams in the League — the team with which they will be compared constantly because of its success as an expansion team since 2017-18.
And then they fell behind 3-0.
But they came back to tie the game 3-3 before Vegas got the winning goal off center Chandler Stephenson‘s skate at 8:33 of the third period. They outshot the Golden Knights 31-30 and had 54.3 percent of the 5-on-5 shot attempts (51-43).
“I think it kind of speaks to our character as a team,” center Morgan Geekie said. “You know, we knew they were a good team coming in here, and they kind of paved the way. But I liked what we brought tonight, and I think we got better as the game went on.”
It was a crazy couple of days for the Kraken. Already without forwards Colin Blackwell (lower body) and Yanni Gourde (shoulder), they had five players go into COVID-19 protocol: defenseman Jamie Oleksiak and forwards Joonas Donskoi, Calle Jarnkrok, Marcus Johansson and Jared McCann.
Johansson cleared the protocol before the Kraken traveled to Las Vegas on Monday. The others didn’t travel with the team and missed the morning skate Tuesday.
“Obviously, they’re a big part of our team,” Geekie said. “There was a lot of confusion.”
But Donskoi, McCann and Oleksiak cleared the protocol in the afternoon and flew to Las Vegas on a private plane. Coach Dave Hakstol said they made it with “not a lot of time to spare.”
“I think it’s just a blessing we got them here in time for the game,” forward Ryan Donato said.
Prior to the game, fans in Kraken gear mixed with fans in Golden Knights gear in The Park and Toshiba Plaza outside T-Mobile Arena.
John Barr, the leader of the grassroots effort to bring an NHL team to Seattle, and Paul Buxton, one of the biggest supporters of the cause, stood against the glass in the Seattle end.
They had attended the Golden Knights inaugural home opener on Oct. 10, 2017, wearing jerseys of the Seattle Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, who became the first U.S. team to win the Stanley Cup when they defeated the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey Association in 1917.
Buxton made a sign that day.
“WE WANT THE NHL NEXT,” the sign said.
Now, four years later, they were in the same arena with the same sign, but they were wearing Kraken jerseys and Buxton had replaced one word.
“WE GOT THE NHL NEXT,” the sign said.
“I’m, like, tearing up all the time,” Barr said. “It’s been that kind of day.”
Said Buxton, “It’s just unbelievable that this is real.”
The Golden Knights put on their usual theatrical pregame show and tailored it to the Kraken, new foes who had risen from the deep. It climaxed with the image of a giant squid cracking up through the ice and the Golden Knights’ mascot incinerating and sinking it back into the abyss.
Geekie said the Kraken were nervous, and that was part of the reason they fell behind 3-0. They did commit turnovers and feed the Golden Knights’ transition game.
“Yeah, definitely,” Geekie said. “Hundred percent. Obviously, coming to Vegas, it’s a spectacular city, and they put on quite a show. For me, it was my first time. I know it was more exciting than anything, and then to be a new franchise and everything is something special to be a part of. So obviously I’m sure that had something to do with it.”
Still, the Kraken had chances early and rallied later. Donato scored the first goal in their history at 11:32 of the second period, and McCann followed at 12:44. When Geekie tied it at 7:58 of the third, ripping a shot past goalie Robin Lehner, he twirled his stick like a swashbuckler. It looked like the Kraken might pull it off.
A play or two here, and they might have.
“We obviously haven’t been in that situation before, [but] we’ve all played on different teams and been in that situation on other teams,” Donato said. “So we just came together, and we knew as soon as we got one, the others would come.
“You can always gloom on the negatives, and obviously there’s things we could take out of the game, but we did battle back and gave ourselves a chance. It’s good to see that early, and I think if we correct those things now and learn from our mistakes, we’ll be better.”
This is something on which the Kraken can build. That includes being unsatisfied with the result.
“It’s been a pretty challenging last 40 hours for our group,” Hakstol said. “A lot of ups and downs through the game tonight. We made some mistakes that cost us, but we also did a lot of really good things. Getting down 3-0 in this building, being able to push back to get it back to even, I think that says a lot about our group in terms of sticking together, believing and making plays. But it’s disappointing not to come away with the two points.”