3 Keys: Coyotes vs. Avalanche, Game 1 of Western First Round


No. 7 Coyotes vs. No. 2 Avalanche

5:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, TVAS, ALT, FS-A PLUS, FS-A 

Darcy Kuemper will start for the Arizona Coyotes against the Colorado Avalanche in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Wednesday.

Avalanche coach Jared Bednar didn’t announce whether Philipp Grubauer or Pavel Francouz would be in net.

Kuemper went 3-1 with a 2.77 goals-against average and .933 save percentage against the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, making 49 saves in a 4-3 overtime win in Game 4 on Aug. 7 in Edmonton, the West hub city.

The Avalanche were 2-0-1 in the round-robin portion of the Qualifiers. Grubauer went 1-0-1 with a 2.45 GAA and .914 save percentage against the St. Louis Blues (Aug. 2; 2-1 win) and Vegas Golden Knights (Aug. 8; 4-3 shootout loss). Francouz made 27 saves in a 4-0 win against the Dallas Stars on Aug. 5.

Arizona went 1-0-1 against Colorado (1-1-0) in two regular-season games.

“We’re a hungry team and we have lots to prove,” Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon said. “For me, this feels like my first real chance to win, which really excites me. It excites everyone. This is my fourth playoffs, third straight with everyone else. I feel good and hopefully I can be a key guy in the first round.”

Teams that win Game 1 are 478-219 (68.6 percent) winning a best-of-7 Stanley Cup Playoff series.

Here are 3 keys for Game 1:

1. Relying on Kuemper

Kuemper is 4-1-2 in eight games against Colorado with a 1.80 GAA, a .931 save percentage and three shutouts.

“He’s definitely one of the best goalies, if not the best goalie, that I’ve ever had in my career,” Arizona defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “A huge part of our team, probably the biggest part of our team. That’s how we’ve been winning hockey games this year, with good defense and being quick when we get turnovers and stuff. He’s been unbelievable ever since I’ve been here, and we have [Antti Raanta] too, another great goalie, so we’re pretty spoiled in that department.”

2. Keep MacKinnon in check 

Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet said MacKinnon is X-factor No. 1 of the series. A finalist for the Hart Trophy, awarded to the player voted NHL MVP, MacKinnon scored three points (one goal, two assists) in three round-robin games after finishing fifth in the League with 93 points (35 goals, 58 assists) in 69 games. He has 29 points (11 goals, 18 assists) in 25 NHL playoff games.

“I’m not sure you can just shut him down,” Tocchet said. “I’m not even sure you can have one guy shut him down, but you have to limit his chances. He’s outstanding off the rush, great at countering mistakes. You make a mistake he can counter very well.”

3. Respect for Coyotes

Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog expects a difficult series.

“Arizona’s a good team, no doubt,” he said. “They’re a very defensive-structured team, well coached. They have a lot of skill up front. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is one of the best defensemen in the League. We’ll have our hands full, no doubt. We should definitely respect them.”

Tocchet said the Avalanche are built to win right now.

“I hope they take us lightly, but I don’t think they will,” he said.

Coyotes projected lineup

Taylor HallChristian DvorakPhil Kessel

Clayton KellerDerek StepanConor Garland

Lawson CrouseCarl SoderbergChristian Fischer

Michael GrabnerBrad RichardsonVinnie Hinostroza

Oliver Ekman-Larsson — Jason Demers

Alex Goligoski — Niklas Hjalmarsson

Jakob ChychrunJordan Oesterle

Darcy Kuemper

Adin Hill

Scratched: Brayden Burke, Kyle Capobianco, Michael Chaput, Hudson Fasching, Jordan Gross, Barrett Hayton, Ilya Lyubushkin, Aaron Ness, Victor Soderstrom

Unfit to play: Antti Raanta, Nick Schmaltz

Avalanche projected lineup

Vladislav Namestnikov — Nathan MacKinnon — Mikko Rantanen

Gabriel Landeskog — Nazem KadriValeri Nichushkin

Andre BurakovskyJ.T. CompherJoonas Donskoi

Tyson JostPierre-Edouard BellemareMatt Calvert

Ryan GravesCale Makar

Samuel GirardErik Johnson

Ian ColeNikita Zadorov

Philipp Grubauer

Pavel Francouz

Scratched: Mark Barberio, Shane Bowers, Bowen Byram, Kevin Connauton, Sheldon Dries, Michael Hutchinson, Anton Lindholm, Matt Nieto, Logan O’Connor, Conor Timmins, T.J. Tynan

Unfit to play: Colin Wilson

Status report

Tocchet said Schmaltz and Raanta practiced Tuesday. Schmaltz, a forward, didn’t play against Nashville and will be a game-time decision. Raanta is improving but is not ready to play.

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