SEATTLE – After Seattle waited 97 years for the return of the National Hockey League, the Vancouver Canucks made the expansion Kraken wait at least one more game for their first home win.
In a deafening stadium, dug out from beneath a protected landmark roof in the shadow of the Space Needle, the Canucks earned and then eradicated a third-period deficit, scoring three times in the final eight minutes to beat the Kraken 4-2 in Seattle’s home opener at Climate Pledge Arena.
It was the first meaningful visit by an NHL team since the Seattle Metropolitans folded in 1924.
Saturday’s win for Vancouver was the rebirth of an old hockey rivalry.
“A blast, that was a blast,” Canucks winger Conor Garland said after fooling goalie Philipp Grubauer on the winning goal with 4:02 remaining. “I remember my first game in Vegas was actually a pre-season game and it was the loudest rink I've ever been in. This was pretty close. That was fun.”
“It was rockin,’” Canucks captain Bo Horvat, who drove the comeback, told reporters. “I mean, they got loud a couple of times there, especially when they scored. But I thought we did a great job keeping our composure and not letting it get to us and responding.”
Former Flame Mark Giordano put Seattle ahead 2-1 by scoring on a two-on-one at 5:10 of the final period. The Kraken led by one, but could have been ahead by three or four goals.
But Horvat tied it on a power-play rebound at 12:52, after a quick interchange between Quinn Hughes and J.T. Miller, and Garland followed with the winner, freezing Grubauer slightly on a partial breakaway and scoring between the goalie’s pads.
Justin Dowling added an empty-net goal.
After being outshot 24-16 through 40 minutes, the Canucks' late surge followed a key win Thursday in Chicago and allowed Vancouver to return home from its six-game odyssey to start the season at 3-2-1. The team looked capable of tilting after a dreadful 5-2 loss Tuesday in Buffalo dropped Vancouver under .500, but the Canucks found a way to win two games in difficult buildings while still not playing their best.
“It wasn't a great trip after the Buffalo game; we were in a bit of a hole there,” Garland said. “And these were two really good teams we were coming to play against, and tough buildings obviously -- the United Center and this one. So these were big road wins. We kind of dug deep there and made it a good road trip. It could have gotten away from us.”
“I think we should be happy with this road trip,” Horvat said. “Obviously, there was some ups and downs. But I thought we responded well from playing bad in Buffalo. Getting those last two wins was huge for our group.
“You want to play with a lead, you want to play a full 60 minutes and maybe not get down in the third period and have to claw our way back. But again, it just shows we have resilience in the room and guys stepped up at different times. I'm just overall happy to get that win.”
Release the Kraken, and cage the Canucks.
From the 15-minute mark of the first period until the second period was 11 minutes old, the Canucks did not register a shot on goal.
Aided by an offensive-zone penalty by Vancouver fourth-liner Juho Lammikko, Seattle seized momentum on its power play, scored its first-ever goal on home ice, and could have scored at least a couple of others during the Kraken’s 16 minutes of dominance.
But at 11:09 of the second period, Horvat collected Garland’s pass into the high slot and beat Grubauer stick side to tie the game 1-1. It felt like Vancouver was getting blown out yet suddenly the Canucks were tied.
The Kraken didn’t score on their power play that began at 16:53 of the first period, but nor did they let Vancouver penalty-killers off the ice. It looked like Canucks Jason Dickinson, Tucker Poolman and Kyle Burroughs might kill the final 40 seconds of the period by disfiguring the puck in the corner to the left of goalie Thatcher Demko.
But with the skaters on the ice for a minute-and-a-half, Alex Wennberg managed to kick the puck free, and Adam Larsson fed cross-ice to Seattle defenceman Vince Dunn, who changed the angle of his shot and fired past J.T. Miller and Demko with 3.2 seconds remaining in the period. It was an historic moment, and a thunderous one.
The roar from 17,151 fans – among the 32,000 who pledged ticket money the first day the Kraken asked for support -- continued through the first half of the second period when Seattle generated another eight straight shots to go with the seven they strung together at he end of the first.
Demko made big saves on Wennberg and Nathan Bastian. The goalie later made a stunning rebound stop on Calle Jarnkrok and got just enough of Mason Appleton’s breakaway attempt to keep the puck from trickling across the goal line.
But the Kraken released the Canucks, who emerged from deep water with two points and a fair bit of momentum heading into their first homestand of the season. After 12 days on the road, the Canucks play the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday at Rogers Arena.