Goalies face scrutiny as Coyotes, Predators prepare for Game 3

NHL Hockey
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Coaches for the Arizona Coyotes and Nashville Predators are facing difficult decisions on their starting goalies for Game 3 of their Western Conference qualifying series on Wednesday afternoon in Edmonton.

The best-of-five series is tied 1-1 after Nashville goalie Juuse Saros shut out the Coyotes until the final minute of a 4-2 win in Game 2 on Tuesday.

Saros made his first career playoff start in Game 1, a 4-3 win by the Coyotes on Sunday. He gave up three goals in the first period before allowing one over the next four periods.

Saros told reporters after Game 2 that he’d be ready to start on Wednesday.

“It’s fine,” he said. “Especially since we’re playing this early (Tuesday). You got the whole day and time to recover. I’ve got no issues with that.”

Nashville coach John Hynes could turn to veteran goalie Pekka Rinne for Game 3. Rinne’s streak of 89 consecutive playoff starts, the fourth-longest run in NHL history for one team, came to an end at the start of this series.

“I would say this about both goalies,” Hynes said, “you’re talking about two fantastic people.”

Darcy Kuemper started the first two games in goal for the Coyotes and might be due for a rest, but Arizona could be short-handed after backup goalie Antti Raanta left the bench during the second period on Tuesday because he was deemed unfit to play.

Arizona coach Rick Tocchet said after the game that “something happened in warmup” to Raanta. Video showed Raanta take a puck off his helmet while facing shots in warmups. A decision on the starting goalie for Game 3 would be made Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, Tocchet said.

Tocchet seemed to be leaning toward Kuemper, however.

“He’s our rock,” Tocchet said.

Adin Hill served as the backup after Raanta departed. Hill has never appeared in an NHL postseason game.

The Coyotes have already been short-handed on the offensive end, playing without center Nick Schmaltz the first two games of the series.

Schmaltz, who led the Coyotes with 45 points (11 goals, 34 assists) during the regular season, was hit in the head with an elbow in Thursday’s exhibition game against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Clayton Keller has provided two goals for the Coyotes so far in the series, denying Saros a shutout when he scored with 57 seconds left in Game 2.

Lawson Crouse also scored in the final minute of Game 2, possibly giving the Coyotes some momentum heading into Game 3, but Tocchet would rather put the loss behind him.

“This game is over for me,” he said. “Things change so much. It’s the teams that know how to be even keel that are successful.”

Arizona was 11th in the Western Conference standings when regular-season play was halted on March 12 because of the coronavirus outbreak. The win in Game 1 against the sixth-seeded Predators caught many by surprise, but Tocchet knows anything can happen in the postseason.

“You win a game, everybody thinks you’re great,” Tocchet said. “You lose a game, everybody thinks you stink. That’s just how the playoffs are.”

–Field Level Media

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