|Coaches counting on goalie play in Predators-Coyotes series|
Goaltending will be the difference when the Arizona Coyotes and Nashville Predators meet in Game 1 of their Western Conference qualifying series Sunday afternoon in Edmonton.
Of course, that can be said of any NHL game, any playoff series over the course of time.
But it's particularly true for the Coyotes and the Predators. Coaches of both teams last week noted their goalies as a big factor if they are to win their best-of-five tilt and advance to the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The 11th-seeded Coyotes were tied for third in goals allowed per game at 2.61 in March before the NHL pulled the pin on the regular season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The sixth-seeded Predators were tied for 19th at 3.10 but that's hardly indicative of John Hynes' faith in Juuse Saros and Pekka Rinne.
After all, they combined for 25 saves Thursday when the Preds dispatched the Dallas Stars 2-0 in exhibition play.
"We have two goalies we think can help us win and it was nice to see them both perform well," said Hynes, who was planning a game-day decision on the starting goaltender.
Saros, who had a 2.70 goals-against average on the season, made 12 saves in the first 30 minutes against the Stars. Rinne, who has started every Predators playoff game since 2010, made 13 through the end of the game.
"I thought (Saros) looked like his normal self," Hynes said. "He was very confident, made some big saves and was in the right position. When (Rinne) came in, I think his first shot was a half-breakaway on a breakdown and he made some good saves down the stretch."
Viktor Arvidsson scored twice for the Preds, and Filip Forsberg chipped in two assists.
In goal, the Coyotes will choose between Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta.
Kuemper had a 2.22 goals against-average in the season, tied for third in the league, and Raanta wasn't far behind at 2.63.
Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet enjoys having a solid 1-2 punch between the pipes.
"I still believe that if you're going to go on a long run, you're going to need two goalies," he said. "I'm not quite sure you can play a goalie 10 straight if you go that far."
Kuemper handled the first two periods of the Coyotes' 4-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights Thursday in Edmonton. He allowed two goals on 19 shots, while Raanta took over in the third and made six saves.
Taylor Hall scored the lone Coyotes goal, getting a power-play marker past Marc-Andre Fleury in the third.
The Coyotes and the Predators split their head-to-head series on the season, with the Coyotes winning 5-2 in October and the Predators rebounding for a 3-2 victory in December. They missed the rubber game that was due to be played March 28.
The Predators and Coyotes last faced off in postseason play in 2012 when the Coyotes needed only five games to advance from the Western Conference semifinals. They lost to the Cup-winning Los Angeles Kings in the conference finals and haven't returned to the playoffs since.
The Predators, however, have seen postseason action every year since 2015, including a trip to the 2017 Cup final that they lost in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"I think it's a good matchup," said Coyotes forward Nick Schmaltz. "We had two good games against them (in the regular season). They're definitely a fast-paced team. They like to play that north-south game like we like to play."
--Field Level Media