By Darren Haynes, The Canadian Press on December 27, 2023.
CALGARY – After a torn ACL at the 2022 world championships sidelined Chris Driedger for nine months and derailed his career, he finally made it back between the pipes for the Seattle Kraken on Wednesday.
Making his first NHL start in nearly 20 months, Driedger was excellent with 37 saves to backstop the Kraken to a 2-1 victory over the Calgary Flames.
“The most adversity I’ve ever faced in my career,” said Driedger, whose last NHL start was May 1, 2022. “It’s been a long road, lot of hours spent with the medical staff putting in hours when the guys are skating and doing my own thing and watching from the stands. To come out and finally get back in, it was pretty emotional.”
Driedger signed a three-year, US$10.5-million contract with Seattle as a free agent in July 2021, but after the conclusion of his first season with the Kraken the Winnipeg native suffered the devastating injury while playing for Canada in the gold medal game.
The resulting surgery sidelined Driedger most of last season before he returned to action in late February with Seattle’s American Hockey League affiliate in Coachella, where he remained for the rest of the year.
He had been with Coachella all of this season until Dec. 10 when starter Philipp Grubauer’s injury led to his recall. After watching Joey Daccord start seven games in a row, Driedger got his chance and he responded with a sterling performance.
“I felt great, especially to do it here in Calgary. I’ve logged a lot of minutes here in my junior days. It was just really incredible,” said Driedger, 29. “It was a long process, do the rehab, go to the minors, start this year in the minors, it’s a lot of adversity and it feels good to get this one.”
Driedger played three seasons for the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen. That’s where he was playing when he was drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the third round in 2012.
He had lost all three of his previous NHL appearances against the Flames including both previous games in the Saddledome, where he surrendered a combined eight goals on 45 shots.
“He was outstanding for us tonight, right from the first period through,” said Seattle coach Dave Hakstol. “A couple saves on the PK were difference-makers and he had to make one more for us right before the buzzer. Really happy for him. He’s worked hard to have that opportunity. He was a difference-maker for us tonight.”
His biggest stop, keeping the game tied, came on a Flames two-man advantage in the second period when he went from post to post to rob Elias Lindholm at the side of the net after he had been set up for a one-timer by a cross-crease pass from Connor Zary.
“He did amazing,” said Alex Wennberg, who scored the game-winner. “He played games down there but it’s a different game up here and just making those big saves. He’s winning the game for us.”
Kailer Yamamoto also scored for Seattle (13-14-9). The Kraken extended their points streak to seven games (5-0-2) and moved ahead of Calgary in the Pacific Division standings and the wild-card race.
Nazem Kadri scored for Calgary (14-16-5).
“We talked about in the morning, how big a game it was. And how close it is in the wild-card race,” said Flames captain Mikael Backlund. “We had some looks and at times we weren’t direct enough. We were passing it around a little too much.”
Making his fourth straight start for the Flames, Jacob Markstrom had 19 saves to fall to 8-10-2.
Tied 1-1 in the third, Wennberg’s game-winner came six minutes in.
It was all the support Driedger would need as he was perfect in a third period in which the visitors were outshot 18-8.
“You try to bear down in those situations, of course, we want to score and we want to capitalize on those opportunities,” said Kadri. “But at the same time, he made some great saves, timely saves to keep his team in it on the road.”
Seattle opened the scoring 2:24 into the game on its first shot when Vince Dunn’s pass sprang Yamamoto on a breakaway. Kadri scored on the power play six minutes later.
After being held off the scoresheet again, Jonathan Huberdeau has gone 12 games without a point. Dillon Dube is pointless in his last 15 games while Andrew Mangiapane has only mustered one goal in his last 17 games.
Kraken: Return home to play host to the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday.
Flames: Are off until Sunday when Calgary will meet Philadelphia.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 27, 2023.