Coyotes special teams key against Avalanche in Game 4 of West First Round


The Arizona Coyotes likely wouldn’t be one game from tying the Western Conference First Round against the Colorado Avalanche if not for Darcy Kuemper‘s 49-save performance in a 4-2 win in Game 3 on Saturday.

But the Coyotes are not as much focused on how they survived Game 3 as they are on improving areas of need heading into Game 4 on Monday (5:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, FX-CA, TVAS, FS-A, FS-A PLUS, ALT).

“There’s more from us,” coach Rick Tocchet said. “We’re doing a [heck] of a job on the penalty kill — that’s a potent power play (Colorado is 1-for-9 in the series). The silver lining is we won [Game 3] and haven’t had our best power play yet. This power play’s got to get going for us, and we’ve got to tilt the ice.”

The Coyotes, the No. 7 seed, went 0-for-3 with the man-advantage in Game 3 but scored two empty-net goals to help defeat the Avalanche, the No. 2 seed, at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the hub city in the West.

“We have to step up. It’s great that we got a win [in Game 3] with our power play playing like that,” forward Taylor Hall said. “But we just have to get more to the net, more chaos, more rebounds, more zone time. … That’s got to be our M.O. and our game plan.”

The Coyotes are 0-for-9 on the power play in the series, but as much as their struggles with the man-advantage have disrupted their momentum at times, they are executing the plan to contain the Avalanche’s power play, anchored by Hart Trophy finalist Nathan MacKinnon and Calder Trophy finalist Cale Makar.

Arizona has been outshot in six of its seven games in the postseason, including 51-23 in Game 3. The Coyotes were bailed out again by Kuemper, who has faced at least 40 shots in five of those seven games. Kuemper also had 49 saves against the Nashville Predators in Arizona’s series-clinching 4-3 overtime win in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers on Aug. 7.

“I think a lot of guys probably on our team take [Kuemper] for granted at times,” Hall said. “If we can minimize his workload by playing a little bit more offensively, a little bit more on our toes, little bit more on the forecheck and creating turnovers, it’s going to be a harder game for [the Avalanche] and make it easier on him.”

The Coyotes blocked 27 shots in Game 3, their most of any game this postseason, and limited second- and third-chance opportunities in front of Kuemper. The Avalanche, like the Coyotes, have gone 0-for-7 on the power play over the past two games.

“It definitely speaks to Arizona’s grittiness and the way they’re playing and the commitment they have and the sacrifices they’re making, no question,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “They’re getting in shooting lanes all over the place.”

Center Derek Stepan led Coyotes forwards with four blocked shots in Game 3 and is a staple on their penalty kill. Stepan, who has been playing on the top line with Hall and Clayton Keller the past two games, scored 6:29 into the first period of Game 3 to give the Coyotes their first lead of the series.

Although Stepan said he wants the Coyotes to take more chances offensively in the games ahead, he also said he knows their chances of winning the series start on the defensive end.

“That’s who we are; that’s our identity; we have to play that way,” Stepan said. “I think we need to push more on the offensive side of things but continue to do the defensive side of things. We’re finding ways to get it done. At this time of year, nothing matters other than the end result.”

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