The Arizona Coyotes can clinch their first postseason series since 2012 with a victory in Game 4 of their Western Conference qualifying round series against the Nashville Predators on Friday in Edmonton.
Arizona holds a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series following a 4-1 win in Game 3 on Wednesday. Despite being outshot by a 40-28 margin, the Coyotes persevered due to a 39-save performance from goaltender Darcy Kuemper.
Nineteen of the Predators’ shots came in the first period, yet Kuemper held Nashville scoreless in the frame and the Coyotes even reached the first intermission with the lead. Christian Dvorak scored his second goal of the postseason at the 5:09 mark.
Dominant first periods defined the series’ opening two games. Arizona jumped out to a 3-0 lead and held on for a 4-3 victory in Game 1, and the Predators scored twice in the first 10 1/2 minutes en route to a 4-2 triumph in Game 2.
In Game 3, however, Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet was pleased by how his team responded to another early flurry of Predators scoring chances.
“Nashville, they had that fast start and they came out hard. They had the puck a lot,” Tocchet said. “What I’m proud about is that we kind of held it together. …We stuck with the system. We have a game plan, and when we can keep it together, we’re a pretty good hockey club. I thought we handled some pressure situations very well.”
The third period ended up being the key frame of Game 3. After Viktor Arvidsson tied the score for the Predators 7:31 into the second period, Arizona scored three unanswered third-period goals to seal the victory.
“If we start like that (in the first period), I like our chances in the game,” Predators captain Roman Josi said. “But after that, I think we’ve got to make sure we play like that for 60 minutes. It’s a really good team over there, and we let up a little bit in the second (period) and they got a couple of chances.”
Though Games 2 and 3 were on consecutive days, Juuse Saros started both games, indicating that he is Nashville’s clear choice in net ahead of Pekka Rinne. Though three games in the series, however, Saros has only a 3.03 GAA and .900 save percentage.
There has yet to be any indication that Rinne could start Game 4, and moving back to the longtime veteran would be a bold but risky move. Saros established himself as the Predators’ starter over the regular season, and Rinne has himself been shaky over his last 19 postseason games — a 9-10-0 record, .904 save percentage, and 3.08 GAA.
Kuemper’s Game 3 heroics brought relief amidst some uncertainty within Arizona’s goaltending ranks. Antti Raanta is still out of action with an undisclosed injury, leaving third-year goalie Adin Hill as Kuemper’s only backup option.
Predators center Ryan Johansen and Coyotes forward Taylor Hall lead their respective teams with four points during the series, with each player recording a goal and three assists.
The Coyotes’ franchise has only won two playoff series since moving to Arizona from Winnipeg for the 1996-97 season. The Coyotes’ last series win coincidentally came over the Predators, in the 2012 Western Conference semifinals.
If necessary, Game 5 will take place on Sunday, with the Predators as the designated home team.
–Field Level Media