Coyotes eye commanding lead in series with Predators

NHL Hockey

The Arizona Coyotes will try to take a two-game lead against the Nashville Predators in Game 2 of their best-of-five Western Conference qualifying series on Tuesday afternoon in Edmonton.

The Coyotes beat the Predators 4-3 in Game 1on Sunday for their first playoff win since 2012. They were 11th in the Western Conference standings when regular-season play was halted on March 11 because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“It’s nice to get out to a start like this,” Coyotes forward Michael Grabner told reporters. “It’s big to get the first one out of the way and, now, we can focus on the next one.”

Both teams had difficult decisions on who would start in goal in the playoff opener.

Arizona went with Darcy Kuemper over fellow veteran Antti Raanta. Kuemper responded with 40 saves in his first playoff appearance since 2015.

“[Kuemper] gives us a ton of confidence back there,” Coyotes forward Clayton Keller said. “He’s been our best player all year and he’s going to continue to do his thing. He’s going to be huge moving forward.”

Pekka Rinne had started the past 89 playoff games in goal for the Predators, the fourth-longest streak in NHL history, but Nashville coach John Hynes went with Juuse Saros in the series opener.

Saros had a rough start, giving up three goals in a span of 7:43 of the first period before allowing just one over the final two periods.

As of Monday morning, Hynes had not made a decision on who would start Game 2.

“I feel very confident in both goalies,” Hynes said before Sunday’s game. “As we’ve said, in training camp, they were both very competitive and both played well and it’s a unique situation. I feel that the way that they are together, the way they compete and support each other, it’s helpful.”

Nashville, which was sixth in the West when play was halted in March, has 32 playoff wins over the previous five seasons.

The Predators came out strong in the series opener, but gave up the first goal when a point shot from Arizona defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson went off two Nashville players and into the net.

Eight minutes later, the Predators were trailing 3-0.

“We had a tough bounce on the first goal,” Hynes said. “I thought that did give Arizona some energy, and they put us on our heels a little bit in that situation. That specifically is another example of something we have to discuss going in. You have to have a stronger response after a goal against.”

Arizona was also without one of its top players, center Nick Schmaltz, who missed Game 1 after getting hit in the head with an elbow in Thursday’s exhibition game against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Schmaltz led the Coyotes with 45 points (11 goals, 34 assists) during the regular season.

His status for Game 2 is undetermined, though that won’t change the way Arizona prepares.

“If we would’ve lost (Game 1), I’d be in the same situation in the sense that you’re even-keel,” Arizona coach Rick Tocchet said. “This playoffs, there’s a lot of highs and there’s a lot of lows. You can enjoy the win for a couple minutes but for me, other than that, you’ve just got to gameplan for (Tuesday).”

–Field Level Media

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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