It’s been eight years. Eight long years of waiting. Eight long years of adversity. It all ended today as the Arizona Coyotes advance to the first round of the playoffs by eliminating the Nashville Predators in four games. Much of their good fortune has to be due to the absolutely insane play of Darcy Kuemper. After making 39 saves in Game Three, he followed that up today by stopping 49 shots.
Darcy Kuemper Leads Coyotes
After looking like they would not make it to the postseason before the pandemic halted play, the Coyotes lucked out being included in the NHL qualifying series. It must be mentioned that this team and its fans have waited a long time for this to transpire. It was back in 2012 when they faced the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Finals.
And as has been the case in these qualifying series games, unlikely heroes have emerged. One namely being Michael Grabner who scored two huge goals against the Predators. The other one is Brad Richardson who got the overtime winner in yesterday’s game. Grabner missed 22 games during the regular season after sustaining a scary eye injury. He is a shorthanded goal scoring speedster.
Richardson, a grinding forward knows what the playoffs are all about since he was a Cup winner with the Kings back in 2012… the same year the Coyotes were eliminated. Quite ironic, isn’t it? Now he comes back to propel the Yotes to the playoffs. At 35-years-old this could be Richardson’s last hurrah to win another Cup. He will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, so we’ll see what happens. His clutch goal at 5:27 of the overtime period was a classic move where he stays in front of the net to clean up the garbage. This time he got his own rebound after Vinnie Hinostroza sent one towards the Preds’ net.
Darcy Kuemper Played Out of His Head
In just the last two games of the qualifying series, Kuemper made 88 saves! The Nashville Predators threw everything but the kitchen sink at him and still only managed 11 goals in four games. Darcy Kuemper by far led the NHL in saves during this series with 152 or an average of 38 per game. That may not say much about the defence in front of him. He stood tall and kept his team in every game.
That’s what you expect from your goalie and now he gets a bit of a breather to rest. Rest? Kuemper doesn’t know the meaning of the word. He was pressed to play all four games since ever-injured backup Antti Raanta was injured yet again. Kuemper’s stats for this series were exceptional. He had .933 save percentage and a 2.77 goals-against-average.
Time after time, either Filip Forsberg (3-G, 2-A), Roman Josi (4-A), or Viktor Arvidsson (3-G) were rushing towards Kuemper’s net threatening to score. Kuemper was one cool customer as he stymied the Preds time and again. He is a big guy at 6′-5″, 215 pounds and covers a lot of territory. He wasn’t able to stop the pesky Forsberg who tied the game with just 32 seconds on the clock. Prior to that the Coyotes narrowly missed clearing the zone which would have wrapped it up in regulation.
Pucks to the Net
It had been stressed by head coach Rick Tocchet that his team just needs to get pucks to the net and good things will happen. That theory proved successful for the Coyotes. The Predators also tried it, throwing 152 shots at Kuemper in this series and they still came away empty on 141 of them. Many of his teammates recognize that he is their best player and in this series, it was very apparent.
Nashville Becomes Another Team With a Shot at Lafreniere
The Predators will have that 12.5 percent chance of acquiring Alexis Lafreniere. While that is a consolation prize, it is no guarantee. They played a tough series and came up short. Perhaps some changes will be made to get them over the hump next season. For now, it’s a disappointment after so much hard work, sweat, and grind.
The offseason will be interesting for Nashville, who has suffered another disappointingly quick exit from the playoffs. They haven’t been able to find their form since the 2017 run.
The Preds couldn’t solve Kuemper, but then the way he is playing who can? We will soon be able to see how the Coyotes do up against either the Colorado Avalanche or the Vegas Golden Knights as the playoffs progress.
With Kuemper in the net, their confidence must be soaring, but they need to focus better and defend in front of him better. He’s not Superman, but then he sure looked like the Man of Steel in this series.
If he continues this play, the team will need to get him a cape.