GLENDALE, AZ — Brad Richardson scored on a rebound in overtime, Darcy Kuemper stopped 49 shots and the Arizona Coyotes advanced in the postseason for the first time in eight years with a 4-3 win over the Nashville Predators.
"It's huge for the organization," said head coach Rick Tocchet. "Three years ago we wanted to start to chip away and play in some important games. This is probably the biggest important game [the franchise] has had in a long time. The resiliency of a lot of things that have been thrown at the organization, at the team, I'm just proud of the guys."
The Coyotes took a 2-0 lead early in the second period, but allowed Nashville to tie it. Jordan Oesterle put Arizona ahead 3-2 early in the third period, but with their goalie pulled, Nashville tied it with 32 seconds left on a Filip Forsberg one-timer after Niklas Hjalmarsson failed to clear the puck out of the zone.
“It was a little quiet,” Tocchet said of the locker room prior to overtime. "Usually I go in around the seven, eight-minute mark and I knew I had to get in there earlier just to say, ‘Hey, we’re back in this. We get a goal, we win the series.’ I just wanted them to relax, and [captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson] said, ‘Yeah, you’re right.’ And the guys started chirping. The guys started to chirp and you could see the energy. When we went out [to the ice], that’s when I heard some guys really, the whole team was yelling and screaming as we’re walking out, so I really liked the response of the guys."
Just over five minutes into overtime Vinnie Hinostroza sent a pass through the middle of the ice to Richardson who found the net on a second effort to clinch the series for the Coyotes.
"It feel like a lot of hard work came to fruition there," Richardson said afterward. "We've still got a long way to go, but that's a big hurdle for our team and it feels really good."
Despite giving up the late goal, the Coyotes said there was no panic.
“We went back in the locker room and regrouped,” Oesterle said. “Our older guys, Richie, Kuemps and [Jason Demers] and those guys really stepped up in the locker room and told us it’s our time for someone to be a hero, and Richie came out and was the hero tonight, and we move on to Round 1.”
While Richardson was the hero, Kuemper was the MVP of the series for the Coyotes. But they also had key contributions from several depth players including Michael Grabner who scored the first goal of the game, Oesterle and Hinostroza.
“You’re always going to have some guys that might not play or might not be the first guy in the first game to shine or whatever,” Tocchet said. “But for me, a guy like Jordan Oesterle, he was on the fourth pair of defensemen. He wasn’t even going to play. But as training camp went on, I'm like, ‘This guy’s been our best defenseman, I thought, in camp.’ Him and a couple other guys. And I thought he was really good. I love the underdog guys. I thought Oesterle was great. Vinnie doesn’t dress [in the first two games]. He didn’t pout. He makes a big play on the goal. Stanley Cup Playoffs, that’s what it’s all about. It’s the guys being able to stay with it, and any time that we call your number, whether you’re dressed or not, you come and those two guys shined for us. I love those type of guys, the underdog guys.”
The Coyotes’ season continues against either Vegas or Colorado in a best-of-7 game series, but this was an important step for the organization considering the on-and-off ice struggles in recent years.
“We’re all sick and tired of the Coyotes being out of the conversation,” Richardson said. “And I think we put ourselves in that.”