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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Kraken lose to Stars for 7th straight defeat against playoff-bound teams

Geoff Baker Seattle Times

DALLAS — Eleven months since their prior season ended here in a Game 7 playoff heartbreaker, the Kraken are winding down another campaign under far different circumstances of disappointment.

The first period scoreboard flash Saturday afternoon of upcoming Dallas Stars playoff tickets being available likely did little to improve the mood of a Kraken team going nowhere near the postseason this spring.

In fact, the Kraken can no longer even beat playoff-bound teams, taking a 3-1 loss to the Stars at American Airlines Center to make it seven straight defeats against squads that will still be playing once the regular season ends.

They did their best to at least make a contest of it through most of this game, starting off a difficult season-ending road trip against teams — some of which are still playing for playoff seeding improvements — better than them in the standings.

“I think this is a very difficult road trip,” said Kraken goalie Philipp Grubauer, whose 18 second period saves helped keep things close. “Dallas is still playing for something. Winnipeg … so, not the easiest road trip. But we’ve got to make sure we play the right way and just finish the season off strong.”

Grubauer is finishing stronger than he began, putting up save percentages of .900 or better in five of his last six outings and allowing more than three goals in just one contest. The Stars were fortunate to get the three they did on him, with goals near the ends of periods by Craig Smith in the first and Jason Robertson in the second enough to spoil his strong outing.

Miro Heiskanen added a third Dallas goal on a third period wraparound with 7 minutes, 37 seconds to go. Kailer Yamamoto scored in the closing minutes to foil the Dallas shutout bid, notching his first goal since Dec. 27.

The victory enabled Dallas to clinch the Central Division title and brought them to the brink of winning the Western Conference top seeding as well, pending Saturday night’s Vancouver Canucks game against Edmonton.

As for the Kraken, they haven’t beaten a playoff bound team since defeating the Winnipeg Jets back on March 5 before embarking on their second eight-game losing streak of the season. They’ve gone 0-6-1 since in such games.

Grubauer said this is the healthiest he’s felt in a while after sitting out nearly two months with a lower body injury.

“It’s better than before the injury, I would say,” Grubauer said. “It makes it easier to do your job if you are at 100%. If you’re at 80 or 90% and there’s a little something going on, it’s always a little tough. You maybe play situations a little bit differently.”

Grubauer certainly looks different from the first two months of the season. So, if he is indeed playing better due to fixing a nagging health issue, that’s certainly a positive the Kraken can carry into the summer.

They got off to a solid start in this one, but failed to find the back of the net and allowed Dallas to break the scoring ice right at the end of the opening period. Robertson threw a harmless looking shot at the net but Smith was there to tip it home with just three seconds to go until intermission.

It was just the fourth shot by Dallas and a potential back-breaker for a Kraken team without much motivation to begin with these days.

“I thought we played a really good game,” Yamamoto said after cracking the Kraken lineup for the first time in nearly three weeks. “Obviously, that goal at the end — nothing you can really do about that — it was a great tip and gave them a bit of life.”

To their credit, the Kraken hung in, surviving a second-period goalmouth scramble in which Will Borgen covered up a puck in the crease. The Stars were awarded a penalty shot and Grubauer stopped Sam Steel to keep it a 1-0 contest.

“I think it’s just putting your best foot forward,” Yamamoto said of the Kraken remaining competitive. “Guys are working for contracts. Guys are working for next year. Maybe moving up in the lineup. So, I think there are a lot of things guys are playing for right now.”

In many respects, the game was similar to last spring’s decisive Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinal — minus the bigger stakes.

That was also a 1-0 affair until late in the final frame when Wyatt Johnson of the Stars scored a beautiful goal up high on Grubauer to put Dallas ahead by a pair. This time, the 1-0 game also appeared headed to the third period before Brandon Tanev took a late penalty for bowling over goalie Jake Oettinger with the Kraken already down a man.

It didn’t take long for the Stars to score from there, with Robertson setting up in the slot undefended, taking a pass and wristing the puck past Grubauer to make it 2-0 by second intermission.

The Kraken lost Game 7 here last spring when they couldn’t get the puck behind Oettinger until it was too late. And it was similar this time, with Oettinger making a key stop on a Jaden Schwartz backhand attempt from in close during a second period power play.

“Probably the difference in the game for me offensively is not being able to capitalize on the number of outnumbered rushes that we had,” Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said, noting his team generated an unusually high number of such chances against a stellar Dallas defensive team.

And they’ll need to keep generating chances to avoid getting blanked in the win column with no playoff motivator for them the season’s final three games. Hakstol said his team showed up “ready to win a hockey game” even if the results weren’t there.

“That’s a question we’ve had to answer the last two weeks,” Hakstol said of late season motivation. “It’s a hard thing to swallow when you find yourself on the wrong side of the line in terms of the playoffs. So … it’s about how you come out today with a positive effort, solid execution and good competitive play.”