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Darcy Kuemper, Coyotes defeat Avalanche in crucial Game 3

Darcy Kuemper #35 of the Arizona Coyotes stick checks Matt Calvert #11 of the Colorado Avalanche during the first period in Game Three of the Western Conference First Round during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on August 15, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

After Game 1 in the series between the Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche, Arizona coach Rick Tocchet seemed exasperated.

“Darcy Kuemper, first star again,” Tocchet said before criticizing his team’s performance in the loss. “So it’s Darcy, Darcy, Darcy. And that’s it.”

In Game 3 on Saturday, it was Darcy, Darcy, Darcy once again. This time, though, the Coyotes were on the winning side of a must-win game.

Arizona defeated the Avalanche 4-2 to pick up their first win in the series, which is now 2-1 Colorado. Kuemper made 49 saves as the Coyotes were outshot 51-23.

“I think a lot of guys probably on our team take him for granted at times, because he makes everything look so easy,” forward Taylor Hall said. “Not only is he making saves, but he’s not out of position making a five-bell save every time. He makes it look pretty easy.”

Kuemper’s 49 saves tied his own career-high — irrespective of playoffs or regular season. The other time he had 49 saves? It was eight days ago, in the series against Nashville.

“Yeah, we’ve been talking about him all playoffs long,” forward Derek Stepan said. “He has been absolutely lights out, and in those moments where we need a key save, he’s gotten every single one. So we wouldn’t be in this position without him, and obviously we need him to continue to do that.”

Kuemper faced 20 shots in the first period, 16 in the second and 15 in the third. Always modest, Kuemper deflected praise to his teammates in his postgame remarks on Saturday.

“I feel good and as far as the game went, I thought we did a really good job of taking away their time and space,” Kuemper said. “We defended hard. We probably spent more time in our end than we wanted to, but when we defend like that, we give ourselves a chance and we were able to pot four goals.”

Kuemper now has a whopping .933 save percentage in this postseason. He has played all seven games for the Coyotes, including two back-to-backs.

THE GAME ITSELF

Kuemper and the Coyotes were playing in the second half of a back-to-back Saturday, as the two teams faced one another on Friday. The Avs won Game 1 by a score of 3-0, thanks to a trio of goals in the span of 1:23 in the third period. In Game 2, a Colorado goal on an odd deflection in the game’s final minutes put them up 3-2.

“I thought last game we played probably our best game of the series and we lost,” forward Brad Richardson said. “I thought we had a lot of confidence coming in from last game and we said, ‘We play the same game, we win.’ So I actually thought we played even better last game. So I think I know what standard we can get to. We’re still looking to get better.”

One area the Coyotes can get better: the power play. Arizona was 0-for-3 on the power play on Saturday and is 0-for-9 in the series.

“I think guys believe that, ‘Hey, good win,’ but they know they have to play better. I like that,” Tocchet said.

Arizona scored first Saturday to take its first lead of the series, as Clayton Keller fed Stepan to make it 1-0. Keller has three goals and three assists for six points in these playoffs.

Andre Burakovsky, who scored the game-winner for Colorado in Game 2, tied the game at 1-1 in the second period.

Conor Garland found Richardson on a nice cross-ice assist to put Arizona up 2-1 in the middle period. That was Richardson’s second of the postseason, his first one being the series-winner against Nashville.

That 2-1 score stood for most of the rest of the game until Hall scored on an empty net for Arizona in the final minutes. That put Arizona up 3-1 before Mikko Rantanen quickly responded to pull Colorado within one goal with 0:57 to play.

Lawson Crouse’s empty-netter made it 4-2 Arizona, the final score.

“I think this is a big win for us,” Tocchet said. “I think it’s going to relax some guys, number one. It’s the playoffs. Anything can happen. We keep talking about that. You just don’t know what can happen, you have to be ready for it. We talk about opportunity, so we just gave ourselves another opportunity winning this game. Now it’s: We’ve got to win three games, they’ve got to win two.”

Arizona fell flat in Game 1 and spent too much time defending. A competitive Game 2 went Colorado’s way. Defense and goaltending were the story in Game 3 for Arizona.

Game 4 is on Monday.


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