Darcy Kuemper proved that he is still the Vezina-calibre goaltender he was before his injury earlier in the season. In an overtime victory over the Nashville Predators, Kuemper and the Arizona Coyotes have moved on to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2012.
Darcy Kuemper Out Plays Saros in Win
Kuemper faced a barrage of Predators shots during their Game Four matchup. Once the final horn rang, Kuemper had faced 52 shots and blocked 49 of them. Compared to each of the previous games, he was tested the most during this one. Overall he put up a .933 save percentage in the series, picking up where he left off before the season pause. Much like Juuse Saros Game Two, each save only propelled the team out of their own end and into the offensive zone with speed and purpose.
On Brad Richardson‘s game winning goal for the Coyotes, the rush originated from a pad save from Kuemper. There were many rushes that were started from similar circumstances, proving Kuemper’s importance to the Coyotes’ transition onto the rush.
Saros was basically handed the starting job from Pekka Rinne. The latter half of the season, Saros saw more minutes and had all but gained the full confidence of recent hire, John Hynes. This was his series to prove to management and the fans that he can be what Rinne was for Nashville.
His Game Four performance isn’t to undermine his whole series, stopping 111 of his 124 shots face. The .895 saver percentage that the math works out to doesn’t give his play during the series the credit it deserves. Nashville wouldn’t have been in an overtime scenario in Game Four if it weren’t for Saros playing the way he did.
Arizona’s Plan Going Forward
Going into the series, the Coyotes had a good chance of winning each game no matter who they played. Darcy Kuemper was going on a Vezina Trophy run, and Raanta was putting up similar numbers splitting games with him. Coming out of it, however, there is a clear candidate to lead the team on a deep playoff run. Kuemper played both games in the back-to-back they had in the series, and showed little sign of fatigue. He was able to face a barrage of shots night in and night out without wavering in his ability.
Darcy Kuemper continues to cause Los Angeles Kings fans and management pain for not keeping him, and is the star goaltender of the Coyotes presently. If the Coyotes’ skaters continue to help their netminders like they did by playing fast-paced, high-intensity hockey, they will be a team to look out for in the West during the playoffs.
Potential Round One Matchups
The Coyotes will have to wait for the result of the round robin game between the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche to know who they play in round one. There is no obvious preference for who they’d want to face. It’s a matter of going up against the fastest top-six in hockey against Colorado, or the deepest team in the West against Vegas.
They lost two-of-three to Vegas in the regular season, and split their series against Colorado. Regardless, they will be the away team for the first two games of the series. In a bubble setting without fans, that doesn’t mean much. However, the last change on a line-change can prove worthy if a game comes down to the wire.
Whatever the case, the Coyotes are primed and ready to stay in Edmonton for as long as they want. This team put their foot on the gas at the right time; there is no stopping in sight for them.