3 Keys: Coyotes vs. Predators, Game 1 of Cup Qualifiers


No. 11 Coyotes vs. No. 6 Predators

2 p.m. ET; USA, NHL.TV, SN360, FS-TN, FS-A

The Arizona Coyotes and Nashville Predators will open a best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifier series Sunday at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the hub city for the Western Conference. The winner will advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet and Predators coach John Hynes each declined to make an announcement on a starting goalie Saturday. Each team used two goalies in its exhibition game this week.

Arizona center Nick Schmaltz, who led the Coyotes with 45 points (11 goals, 34 assists) this season, sustained a stiff neck Friday and was scheduled to be reevaluated after practice Saturday, Tocchet said.

There hasn’t been a best-of-5 series in the NHL since 1986. The League used them for the preliminary round of the playoffs from 1980-86, and the team that won Game 1 went on to win the series 87.5 percent of the time (49 of 56).

Here are 3 keys to Game 1:

1. Who’s in net 

Predators goalies Juuse Saros and Pekka Rinne combined for 26 saves in a 2-0 exhibition win against the Dallas Stars in Edmonton on Thursday. Saros took over as the No. 1 goalie after Rinne struggled this season and went 12-5-1 with a 2.22 goals-against average and .934 save percentage, including a .940 even-strength save percentage, in his last 20 games (18 starts) before the NHL paused the season March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. Rinne has started every Stanley Cup Playoff game for the Predators since 2010 (89 straight games).

The Coyotes will counter with either Darcy Kuemper or Antti Raanta, who combined for 23 saves in a 4-1 exhibition loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday. Kuemper had a 1.97 GAA and .935 save percentage in his first 24 games this season before sustaining a lower-body injury Dec. 19 that kept him out more than two months. Raanta was 15-14-3 with a 2.63 GAA and .921 save percentage in 33 games (32 starts) this season. 

2. Special-teams advantage

The Coyotes appear to have the edge; they were 18th in the NHL on the power play (19.2 percent) this season, and the Predators were tied for 24th (17.3). Arizona had the No. 5 penalty kill (82.7 percent); Nashville was 29th (76.1).

Nashville improved on special teams after John Hynes replaced Peter Laviolette as coach Jan. 7; it had a better power play (18.1 percent under Hynes; 16.8 previously) and penalty kill (79.3 percent under Hynes; 74.1 previously). 

3. Calling all forwards

Nashville’s top line of center Ryan Johansen with Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson was reunited at the start of training camp after playing together for 124 minutes during the regular season. Center Matt Duchene (13 goals in 66 games) will also look to provide scoring. 

The Coyotes need production from Schmaltz and their top line of center Christian Dvorak (38 points; 18 goals, 20 assists) and forwards Taylor Hall (27 points; 10 goals 17 assists) and Conor Garland (39 points; 22 goals, 17 assists). Arizona is also depending on forward Phil Kessel (38 points; 14 goals, 24 assists), who has 77 points (33 goals, 44 assists) in 87 playoff games, to come up big.

Predators projected lineup

Filip Forsberg — Ryan Johansen — Viktor Arvidsson

Kyle Turris — Matt Duchene — Mikael Granlund

Rocco GrimaldiNick BoninoCraig Smith

Calle JarnkrokColton SissonsAustin Watson

Roman JosiRyan Ellis

Mattias EkholmDante Fabbro

Dan HamhuisKorbinian Holzer

Juuse Saros

Pekka Rinne

Scratched: Colin Blackwell, Daniel Carr, Michael McCarron, Eeli Tolvanen, Yakov Trenin, Alexandre Carrier, Jarred Tinordi, Yannick Weber, Troy Grosenick, Connor Ingram

Unfit to play: None


Coyotes projected lineup

Taylor Hall — Christian Dvorak — Conor Garland

Carl Soderberg — Nick Schmaltz — Phil Kessel

Lawson CrouseDerek StepanClayton Keller

Vinnie HinostrozaBrad RichardsonChristian Fischer

Oliver Ekman-LarssonJason Demers

Jakob ChychrunAlex Goligoski

Niklas HjalmarssonIlya Lyubushkin

Darcy Kuemper

Antti Raanta

Scratched: Brayden Burke, Michael ChaputHudson Fasching, Michael Grabner, Barrett Hayton, Kyle Capobianco, Jordan Gross, Aaron Ness, Victor Soderstrom, Adin Hill 

Unfit to play: None

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