It was a story of special teams as the Arizona Coyotes started out the play-in series with a 4-3 win over the Nashville Predators. The Coyotes were led by Darcy Kuemper and a three-goal first period to take a 1-0 series lead.
Arizona got off to a lightning-fast start thanks to very physical play from the opening whistle. They were rewarded by scoring one of the weirdest goals you’ll ever see. Oliver Ekman-Larsson rifled a shot from the point that deflected off of two different Predators before floating over Juuse Saros and into the net.
The lucky bounce sparked the Coyotes who continued the offensive pressure made it 2-0 just three minutes later. Taylor Hall came around the net where he found Phil Kessel out in front for a shot in front. Saros made the first save, but Christian Dvorak fired the rebound home.
Then the special teams came into play. A Matt Duchene holding penalty very quickly came back to bite the Preds. Clayton Keller was found wide open in the slot by Dvorak to make it a 3-0 lead at the 15:42 mark. At the time of that goal, the Coyotes were outshooting the Predators, 13-4.
The Predators did play better after this. They cut into the lead thanks to a power-play goal by Filip Forsberg. After doing a nice job to keep the puck in the zone, he shot one from the top of the circle that deflected off Niklas Hjalmarsson with just 2.5 seconds remaining in the first.
The Predators continued their strong play into the second period but kept getting in their own way. They had three penalties in a 10-minute stretch and while Arizona didn’t score on the power play, it slowed down Nashville’s momentum. When they did get into the offensive zone, Kuemper was lights out to hold the lead.
When Jakob Chychrun went off for interference at the 15:40 mark of the second, it looked like it was Nashville’s chance to get back in it. However, Michael Grabner did what Michael Grabner does best. He intercepted a pass from Forsberg and deked Saros to give the Coyotes a 4-1 lead.
The Predators quickly made it into a game in the third period when just 30 seconds in, Ryan Ellis scored to make it 4-2. The defenseman fired a one-timer through traffic that went off Ekman-Larsson’s skate and past Kuemper. At the 8:56 mark of the third, Forsberg scored his second goal of the day to make it a 4-3 game. This goal, once again, was on the power play, the fourth special team’s goal of the day for both teams.
Nashville continued to pour it on as they took 20 shots in the third period. However, Kuemper was a wall making 18 saves to hold off the Predators for a 4-3 victory.
Game 2 between the teams will take place on Wednesday, August 5th at 2:30 pm EST.
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