Entering these playoffs, there were plenty of reasons to doubt the Seattle Kraken.
The team — in just its second year of existence — had a rookie for a first-line centre, a lineup that included no players who produced more than 70 points in the regular season, and a goaltending group that combined for the third-worst save percentage in the NHL.
Seattle also experienced the misfortune of drawing the Colorado Avalanche as its first playoff foe in franchise history.
That combination of factors had the Kraken feeling like more of a feel-good story than the likely authors of an upset, but they've exceeded expectations by a significant margin so far.
With the series tied 2-2 there's still plenty of work for Seattle to do, but the Kraken are giving the Avalanche a battle. Their Game 4 win over Colorado showed they're capable of steamrolling one of the Western Conference's top teams.
Although the Kraken beat the Avalanche 3-2 in overtime, that score undersells the quality of their performance. Seattle outshot the Avs 42-23, and outhit them 52-36 despite having the puck far more often.
The Kraken weren't just throwing pucks on net, either. At 5-on-5, they dominated the share of scoring chances (59.18%), high-danger scoring chances (73.91%), and expected goals (72.25%). The Avalanche didn't just lose, they were scrambling all night.
For the series as a whole, Seattle is now playing Colorado to slightly better than a draw in each of those metrics. That may seem surprising, but perhaps it shouldn't be considering the Kraken had a 5-on-5 goal share (56.64%) bested only by the Boston Bruins during the regular season.
Seattle has proven it can do an excellent job of controlling the puck and tilting the ice, which makes the team dangerous when it's getting solid goaltending. That wasn't the case all year and the Kraken still managed to amass 100 points.
In this series, goaltending hasn't been an issue. Philipp Grubauer is providing rock-solid play between the pipes so far.
That's probably not surprising to the Avalanche, who saw the German produce a .920 save percentage in 29 playoff starts with the team between 2018 and 2021.
Grubauer is tough to trust coming off two rough regular seasons in Seattle where he posted an .891 save percentage and accumulated -34.7 Goals Saved Above Average. But while he could turn back into a pumpkin at any time, the veteran has a solid postseason track record — and at the age of 31 he's not over the hill physically.
Beyond Grubauer, Seattle will also have to worry about the absence of 40-goal scorer Jared McCann, who went down with an injury in Game 4. That loss will be mitigated in Game 5, at least, by a major blow to Colorado. Star defenseman Cale Makar earned a one-game suspension for knocking McCann out of the game.
From the DoPS video:
"It is important to note that McCann is in no way eligible to be checked on this play."
"It is clear that Makar knows McCann is not in possession of the puck when he decides to deliver this hit." pic.twitter.com/a0E4rIsncf
— Emerald City Hockey (@EmeraldCityHky) April 25, 2023
The road to an upset win over the Avalanche remains perilous, and the smart money is still on the defending champs finding a way. Even so, Seattle deserves a ton of credit for how it's performed.
The Kraken remain underdogs, but they're not just happy to be here. They are a real threat to knock out one of the NHL's heavyweights.
If they continue to play like they did in Game 4, their first playoff series in franchise history will be a memorable one.