Darcy Kuemper made 39 saves, and the Arizona Coyotes defeated the Nashville Predators 4-1 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Wednesday to take the lead in the best-of-5 series.
“You always have those goalies that you want to play for, but he’s such a great guy, never blames his teammates,” Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet said of Kuemper. “Those are the guys that you want to block shots for, play for. Kuemper is that type of guy. It was a terrific performance.”
[WATCH: All Predators vs. Coyotes highlights]
Taylor Hall had a goal and an assist, and Christian Dvorak, Conor Garland and Carl Soderberg scored for Arizona, the No. 11 seed in the Western Conference.
“I think at the start of the game they were coming hard and it was important for us to come back at them and realize the style of play they want to play,” Hall said. “They want to throw everything at the net, throw everything in your face. But that can also lead to rushes the other way. That’s what [Tocchet] has been preaching.”
Viktor Arvidsson scored, and Juuse Saros made 24 saves for Nashville, the No. 6 seed in the West.
“It’s frustrating right now,” Predators captain Roman Josi said. “In the first (period), I thought we played really well, created a lot of chances, had a lot of shots, a lot of zone time, but obviously couldn’t get a goal. I actually thought our third was good too. It’s a 1-1 game and they scored. Looking back, obviously in the first, I wish we’d got some goals because I thought we played really well.”
Kuemper made eight saves in the opening 3:49 before Dvorak’s goal. He made 19 saves in the period, his most in one period this season.
“[Kuemper] is a great goalie,” Hall said. “I didn’t know much about him before I got traded here (from the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 16). To see his level of compete and how he plays and practices, he’s so in control, so big (6-foot-5, 215 pounds) and covers a lot of the net. If we can let him see pucks, take that first shot, he’s one of the best in the world at it. He’s a big reason why we won today, and he’s got to keep that up because he’s playing like our best player right now.”
The Predators outshot the Coyotes 40-28.
Game 4 is in Edmonton, the Western Conference hub city, on Friday (2:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, NHL.TV, SN360, FS-A, FS-A, FS-TN). The series winner advances to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The loser will have a chance at the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft in the Second Phase of the NHL Draft Lottery, to be held Monday.
Teams that win Game 3 after a series is tied 1-1 are 21-7 (75 percent) winning a best-of-5 NHL series (14-2 when last used from 1980-86).
“We all understood the importance of going up 2-1 in a series,” Hall said. “The next game is going to be huge. They’re going to come out with their season on the line, and we’re going to have to be ready for that.”
Arizona was 11th in the Western Conference standings, and 22nd in the NHL standings this season. No team has ever made the Stanley Cup Playoffs finishing worse than 10th in its conference (Hartford Whalers in 1988 and 1992 were 10th) or 20th in the NHL (Whalers in 1992 and Toronto Maple Leafs in 1988 were 20th).
Dvorak tipped the puck from the slot to give the Coyotes a 1-0 lead at 5:09 of the first period. Arvidsson tied it 1-1 on a slap shot from the right face-off circle at 7:31 of the second period.
With the game tied, Kyle Turris scored for Nashville at 1:10 of the third period, but the goal was overturned after Tocchet challenged for offside. Tocchet credited video coach Steve Peters for the decision to challenge.
“I think it’s a detail that we can’t have,” Predators coach John Hynes said. “It takes away a goal and allows us to be able to be up. I didn’t think it affected our team in the sense that there was any sag or anything. I thought we continued to push, continued to play, so that was a good sign. I thought there were just some details at the end of the game, particularly that being one of them, that we need to make sure are shored up.”
Garland made it 2-1 on a wrist shot from the slot at 7:08 of the third. He led the Coyotes with 22 goals this season,
“It was a great play by [Derek Stepan], who bought me a lot of time there,” Garland said. “He gave me one right down the pipe (on the primary assist). They had a big push, and we weathered the storm and played defense well.”
Hall scored a power-play goal on a rebound from the left circle to make it 3-1 at 15:38.
“Sometimes with my game, I can try a little bit too hard and take myself out of scoring spots that you can create offense,” Hall said. “Tonight, I thought I did a better job of that. In the playoffs, sometimes you’ve got to live to fight another day and keep it simple and play for your next shift. I just wanted to make sure we were advancing the puck, playing the right way.”
Soderberg scored into an empty net with 1:54 remaining for the 4-1 final.
NHL.com staff writer Tim Campbell contributed to this report