Team effort: Coyotes get contributions of all kinds in series win
Without question, Darcy Kuemper saved the Arizona Coyotes’ hides a few times. He was a pivotal reason why the team won its Stanley Cup Qualifying round series over the Nashville Predators in four games, capped by a 4-3 overtime win on Friday afternoon in the Edmonton bubble.
“He had a hell of a series for us,” head coach Rick Tocchet said.
But while Kuemper came through for his teammates, there were contributions from many different places on the Coyotes, from veterans to young 20-somethings, from high-paid stars to fourth-liners, from the head coach to the video coach.
Friday’s overtime win over Nashville felt like the epitome of that.
In the same game that Phil Kessel and Clayton Keller each got their team-leading fourth points of the series, Vinnie Hinostroza — a healthy scratch in Games 1 and 2 — fed veteran Brad Richardson for a series-winning goal. That was necessary because defenseman Jordan Oesterle’s would-be game-deciding goal in the third period was countered by a Nashville equalizer with 0:32 seconds left in regulation.
“You’re always going to have some guys that might not play or might not be the first guy to shine or whatever,” Tocchet said. “But for me, a guy like Jordan Oesterle, he was on the fourth pair of defensemen. He wasn’t even going to play. But as training camp went on, I thought, ‘This guy’s been our best defenseman in camp.’ Him and a couple other guys. And I thought he was really good. I love the underdog guys. I thought Oesterle was great.
“Vinnie doesn’t dress [in the first two games]. He didn’t pout. He makes a big play on the goal. Stanley Cup Playoffs – that’s what it’s all about. It’s the guys being able to stay with it, and any time we call your number, whether you’re dressed or not, you come and those two guys shined for us. I love those type of guys, the underdog guys.”
That doesn’t just apply to the players. Video coach Steve Peters radioed down to assistant coach John MacLean after a Nashville goal by Kyle Turris put the Predators up 2-1 in Game 3. Peters saw that the play was offside, and the challenge was successful. That kept the game at 1-1, and Arizona went on to win 4-1.
Nashville played well in the series and gave the Coyotes hurdles they had to clear. There were times when Arizona had its back on the ropes. But the greatest positive is that the Coyotes overcame those challenges, hung in when they had to and scored when it counted the most. Their well-paid veterans showed up. Their depth players scratched and clawed. Even Michael Grabner, who suffered an eye injury last year and has been a healthy scratch at times this year, had two goals in the series.
And when a deflating goal by Nashville tied the game in the third period on Friday, Tocchet and the veteran players did what they had to to keep Arizona ready to play for overtime.
“It was a little quiet,” Tocchet said. “But I just went in. I usually go in around the seven, eight-minute mark and I knew I had to get in there earlier just to say, ‘Hey, we’re back in this. We get a goal, we win the series.’ I just wanted them to relax, and [captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson] said, ‘Yeah, you’re right.’ And the guys started chirping.
“The guys started to chirp and you could see the energy. When we went out [to the ice], that’s when I heard some guys really, the whole team was yelling and screaming as we’re walking out.”
The team was screaming when they went back in the dressing room, too.