The Arizona Coyotes narrowly protected a once-dominating lead in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Qualifying Round, taking a 1-0 series advantage over the Nashville Predators.
A goal parade for the Coyotes early-on put the game seemingly out of reach, but the Preds got deflected shots and ample power play time to cut into a 4-1 Arizona lead. The Coyotes held on to win, 4-3.
In the span of seven minutes and 43 seconds, the Coyotes got a wacky bounce for a goal by Oliver Ekman-Larsson, followed by an even-strength goal from Christian Dvorak and a power play goal from Clayton Keller. The Predators made it 3-1 right before first intermission thanks to Filip Forsberg, but a shorthanded breakaway by Michael Grabner gave Arizona a 4-1 lead in the second.
Two third-period goals from Nashville’s Ryan Ellis (deflected in) and Forsberg (one-timer on the power play) were followed by yet another Predators power play. The game wasn’t a breeze anymore.
“[We were] getting a little panicky, a bad change, we’re just flipping pucks out,” head coach Rick Tocchet said. “I thought the last five [minutes], we settled down, we didn’t give them that much the last five, which is a good sign for us. But yeah, they started taking the game over in the third, we were taking those penalties.
“The veteran guys kind of calmed everybody down. Even me.”
Arizona led the shots on goal battle most of the game but were outshot 20-11 in the final period and 43-37 overall. Darcy Kuemper made 40 saves in net for Arizona, while Nashville’s Juuse Saros made 33. The Coyotes need two more wins in the next four games to clinch the series.
The game was physical early, and Lawson Crouse had one hit in particular that leveled Nashville’s Matt Duchene. Duchene then committed a holding penalty and Keller scored on the ensuing power play. Crouse had a team-leading five hits.
Forward Nick Schmaltz, who coincidentally missed the game after a taking a hit in Thursday’s exhibition, said this week that playing physical against Nashville was among the ways the Coyotes could disrupt their style of play.
“Well I told you guys when we played Vegas [in exhibition], that was the perfect team for us to play,” Tocchet said. “Kind of a perfect wake-up call in the sense that we’re going to need some people to get uncomfortable out there and hit. And I think Crouser had a big hit. [Christian Fischer], I’m proud of him, he had a good game today. He hit a lot of guys. We need — not just those guys — we need everybody to kind of take people.
“And it’s not killing guys, it’s just getting in front of people. That’s the whole game nowadays is getting in front of people, making it hard for the other team. That’s the way you’ve got to play the game if you want to go far in the playoffs.”
Arizona out-hit Nashville 22-15.
The Coyotes were 1-for-6 on the power play. Nashville was 2-for-5. Faceoffs were an even split, 50% wins for each team.
The Coyotes and Predators were the first teams on the ice for games in the hub city of Edmonton on Sunday. Local time for puck drop was 12 p.m., or 11 a.m. in Arizona and 2 p.m. Eastern time. Other teams had games throughout the day on the same ice surface.
“You have some of the early games during the year, too,” Grabner said. “We were just talking about it walking over here, it’s actually nice to be out there first game, the ice was OK. I don’t know what the ice will be at the late game, but I felt like it was pretty good. For us, it’s nice that we have all the 12 o’clock games here going forward. It should be a fairly normal routine here the next few games.”
— Arizona now leads Nashville 1-0 in the series. The next games are on Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. and Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. Games 4 and 5 are on Friday and Sunday, respectively, if necessary. Times for those games are TBD.
— Sunday was the Coyotes’ first postseason win since May 20, 2012 over the Los Angeles Kings. This is the first time the Coyotes have led a series since May 7 of that year, when Arizona won a postseason series against, coincidentally, the Predators.
— Kuemper’s 40 saves on Sunday were, at the conclusion of the game, the most by a goaltender in the 2019-20 postseason so far.
— With two points in the game, forward Phil Kessel held the third-most postseason points (58) in the NHL since 2015-16. He passed his former teammate Evgeni Malkin and still trails the Sharks’ Logan Couture (65) and another former teammate, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby (69).