Movin’ on: Coyotes win OT thriller vs. Preds, advance in NHL playoffs
Debate over the semantics as to whether the Arizona Coyotes technically are in the playoffs is over. Their 3-1 series victory over the Nashville Predators in the NHL qualifying round has put them in the 16-team Stanley Cup Playoffs tournament.
A game-winning goal off the stick of Brad Richardson gave Arizona a 4-3 overtime win over Nashville to clinch the series, the first of its kind in a modified playoff format in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Michael Grabner, Phil Kessel, Jordan Oesterle and Richardson scored while Darcy Kuemper made 49 saves to give the Coyotes their first postseason series win since it eliminated these Predators in May of 2012. That was the most recent year the Coyotes were in the playoffs until now.
“We went through a lot of crap here and some teams that needed to mature and grow, and it just feels like a lot of hard work came to fruition there,” Richardson said. “We’ve got still a long way to go, but that’s a big hurdle for our team and it feels really good.”
The Coyotes’ next opponent in the postseason, which would be in the “first round” of the playoffs, is to be determined by the conclusion of other qualifying round series and the round robin seeding tournament being played by the top four teams in the Western Conference. It will be one of the following four teams: the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights or Dallas Stars.
The game-winning goal was Richardson’s first in the postseason.
It’s easy to consider Kuemper the MVP of the Coyotes’ series against Nashville. The 30-year-old made a whopping 152 saves in four games and had a save percentage of .933. His typical backup, Antti Raanta, was deemed unfit to play in Game 2, although Kuemper was likely to play the whole series anyway as long as he stayed healthy.
Kuemper’s 19 saves in the first period of Wednesday’s Game 3 were a record in Coyotes postseason history and, similarly, he stopped all 15 shots he faced in the first period on Friday.
“Nashville, the last two games especially, the first 10, 8 minutes, Darcy kept us in,” Tocchet said.
“He had a hell of a series for us.”
The Coyotes scored first on Friday, meaning that the team to get the first goal was the winning team in each of the four games in the series. Grabner scored from the right circle, giving Arizona a 1-0 lead going into first intermission. Kessel scored to make it 2-0 near the start of the second period, but Nashville goals from Matt Duchene (power play) and Viktor Arvidsson (his third of the series) made it 2-2 after two.
Oesterle’s goal at 4:21 in the third period was almost the game-winner, but a Filip Forsberg goal — his third of the series — tied the game 3-3 with 0:32 left in regulation. That sent the game to overtime.
“We went back in the locker room and regrouped,” Oesterle said. “Our older guys, Richie, Kuemps and J.D. and those guys really stepped up in the locker room and told us it’s our time for someone to be a hero, and Richie came out and Rich was the hero tonight, and we move on to Round 1.”
Richardson’s goal came as he crashed toward the net and received a pass from Vinnie Hinostroza. The puck bounced off Richardson’s leg and initially didn’t go in, but a second-chance attempt at it was successful. Richardson has 54 career playoff games of experience, including Friday’s win. That was his sixth career playoff goal.
“I think Vinnie had it, I just kind of rolled off my check, Vinnie made a heck of a play and saw me back-door,” Richardson said. “I think it kind of jumped off my shin pad and then it was just kind of laying there, kind of hung in there and put it in. Feels amazing. Obviously we had it there late and they got a late one, but we stuck with it and was able to win.”
Juuse Saros was the goaltender for Nashville. Like Kuemper, he played each of the Predators’ four games in the series. He made 30 saves on Friday. The Coyotes were outshot 52-34.
— Phil Kessel and Clayton Keller shared the team lead in points for the series. Kessel had a goal on Friday to put his point total in the series up to four (a goal and three assists), while Keller had an assist on Oesterle’s goal to also reach four points (two goals and two assists).
— Nashville’s power play was 4-for-14 (28.6%) in the series, a high number in any context but especially given that the Coyotes had the fifth-best penalty kill (82.5%) in the NHL during the regular season.
— The Coyotes’ power play was 2-for-12 (16.6%).
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