Who's in net? Goalie intrigue aplenty early in NHL playoffs

Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne (35) and Dallas Stars goalie Anton Khudobin (35) chat during warm ups before an exhibition NHL hockey game in Edmonton, Alberta, Thursday, July 30, 2020. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)
Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne (35) and Dallas Stars goalie Anton Khudobin (35) chat during warm ups before an exhibition NHL hockey game in Edmonton, Alberta, Thursday, July 30, 2020. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

Credit: JASON FRANSON

Credit: JASON FRANSON

Who's in net

Even though “Who's in net?” isn't an Abbott and Costello comedy routine, the question makes a few NHL coaches laugh, or at least crack a smirk.

Goaltending intrigue is already in full swing, with half the teams opening the playoffs Sunday not revealing who's starting between the pipes. Watch warmups, as they say, to find out.

The drama begins early with Game 1 of the best-of-five qualifying round series between the Nashville Predators and Arizona Coyotes (2 p.m. EDT, USA Network) in Edmonton, Alberta. Nashville coach John Hynes won't say if he'll call on veteran Pekka Rinne to make his 90th consecutive playoff start or go to Juuse Saros, who was the hot hand before the season was halted in March.

“The way that they compete against each other and support each other, it’s helpful,” Hynes said. “When one guy is playing real well or doing well, the other guy really supports him but doesn’t concede. He doesn’t concede the net or concede the starting position. So I think that’s a real unique situation for us goaltending-wise.”

The Coyotes have scouting reports on each goalie, though there's a sizable difference between facing 6-foot-5 Rinne and 5-foot-11 Saros.

“There’s a few differences when you shoot on a goalie,” said Arizona coach Rick Tocchet, who also won't announce whether Darcy Kuemper or Antti Raanta will start for his team. “I always feel that the quicker you get the shot off, the better chance you have to score on any goalie, so that’s our approach.”

The first game of the day in Toronto — round-robin play between Boston and Philadelphia (3 p.m., NBC) — got a little more interesting when Bruins starter Tuukka Rask missed practice. Rask, who earlier in the week said he had no problems or pain from a broken finger, “wasn't feeling well,” according to coach Bruce Cassidy.

“Will he start? I’ll have to talk to Tuukka later, see where he’s at," Cassidy said. “If not, (backup Jaroslav Halak) will be ready to go.”

Colorado goaltenders Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz are ready to go several months after both were sidelined by injury. One will start against the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in their round-robin game (6:30 p.m., NBC Sports Network), and the other is likely to get the call in the Avalanche's second game.

“We’re not 100 percent sure on our schedule moving forward, and we feel like we’re going to need both guys,” coach Jared Bednar said. “It’s a luxury to have two guys that you trust and you count on, and our team has played well in front of both guys all season long.”

The Columbus Blue Jackets got hot goaltending for big portions of the season, making who starts in Game 1 against the Toronto Maple Leafs (8 p.m., NHL Network) quite the decision for coach John Tortorella. He knows whether it'll be Joonas Korpisalo or rookie Elvis Merzlinkins but in trademark fashion isn't telling.

“I’m not going to talk to you about it right now,” Tortorella told a longtime Columbus reporter. “You know better than that.”

Minnesota coach Dean Evason may have tipped his hand by starting Alex Stalock over Devan Dubnyk in the Wild's exhibition game. If it's indeed Stalock in net in Game 1 against the Vancouver Canucks (10:30 p.m., NBC Sports), the leash could be short given how little time there is to recover in best-of-five series.

“We don’t look any further than the drop of the puck,” Evason said. “I have no idea what’s going to happen in the game. We will adjust and make decisions as we go. But I have no perception of what’s going to happen or guess what’s going to happen. We’ll just take it game by game and period by period.”

Goalie question marks stretch beyond the action Sunday.

Edmonton could turn to Mikko Koskinen after pulling Mike Smith for allowing five goals on 23 shots in a 6-4 loss to Chicago in Game 1 Saturday. And the New York Rangers don't know yet if they'll stick with Henrik Lundqvist for Game 2 against Carolina on Monday.

The Rangers didn't find out until Friday night that rookie Igor Shesterkin wouldn't be available to play in their playoff opener. Lundqvist was sharp in making 34 saves on 37 shots in a 3-2 loss to the Hurricanes.

“Things like that happen,” Lundqvist said. “I feel for Igor, and we’ll see what happens here in the next couple days.”

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Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno.

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Colorado Avalanche goalie Philipp Grubauer (31) makes the save as Minnesota Wild's Jordan Greenway (18) and Avalanche's Nikita Zadorov (16) look for the rebound during the first period of an exhibition NHL hockey game in Edmonton, Alberta, Wednesday, July 29, 2020. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)
Colorado Avalanche goalie Philipp Grubauer (31) makes the save as Minnesota Wild's Jordan Greenway (18) and Avalanche's Nikita Zadorov (16) look for the rebound during the first period of an exhibition NHL hockey game in Edmonton, Alberta, Wednesday, July 29, 2020. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

Credit: JASON FRANSON

Credit: JASON FRANSON

Nashville Predators goalie Juuse Saros (74) makes the save during first-period NHL hockey exhibition game action against the Dallas Stars in Edmonton, Alberta, Thursday, July 30, 2020. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)
Nashville Predators goalie Juuse Saros (74) makes the save during first-period NHL hockey exhibition game action against the Dallas Stars in Edmonton, Alberta, Thursday, July 30, 2020. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

Credit: JASON FRANSON

Credit: JASON FRANSON

Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (40) makes a save on Columbus Blue Jackets center Pierre-Luc Dubois (18) during the first period of an exhibition NHL hockey game Thursday, July 30, 2020 in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (40) makes a save on Columbus Blue Jackets center Pierre-Luc Dubois (18) during the first period of an exhibition NHL hockey game Thursday, July 30, 2020 in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

Credit: Frank Gunn

Credit: Frank Gunn

Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones (3) clears the puck behind goaltender Joonas Korpisalo (70) during first-period NHL hockey exhibition game action against the Boston Bruins in Toronto, Thursday, July 30, 2020. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones (3) clears the puck behind goaltender Joonas Korpisalo (70) during first-period NHL hockey exhibition game action against the Boston Bruins in Toronto, Thursday, July 30, 2020. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

Credit: Frank Gunn

Credit: Frank Gunn

Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins (90) makes a save on Boston Bruins center Jack Studnicka (68) during the third period of an exhibition NHL hockey game Thursday, July 30, 2020 in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins (90) makes a save on Boston Bruins center Jack Studnicka (68) during the third period of an exhibition NHL hockey game Thursday, July 30, 2020 in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

Credit: Frank Gunn

Credit: Frank Gunn

Colorado Avalanche goalie Pavel Francouz (39) makes the save as Minnesota Wild's Jared Spurgeon (46) and Valeri Nichushkin (13) look for the rebound during the second period of an exhibition NHL hockey game Wednesday, July 29, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)
Colorado Avalanche goalie Pavel Francouz (39) makes the save as Minnesota Wild's Jared Spurgeon (46) and Valeri Nichushkin (13) look for the rebound during the second period of an exhibition NHL hockey game Wednesday, July 29, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

Credit: JASON FRANSON

Credit: JASON FRANSON

Arizona Coyotes goalie Darcy Kuemper (35) makes a save against Vegas Golden Knights' Jonathan Marchessault (81) during second-period NHL hockey exhibition game action in Edmonton, Alberta, Thursday, July 30, 2020. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)
Arizona Coyotes goalie Darcy Kuemper (35) makes a save against Vegas Golden Knights' Jonathan Marchessault (81) during second-period NHL hockey exhibition game action in Edmonton, Alberta, Thursday, July 30, 2020. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

Credit: JASON FRANSON

Credit: JASON FRANSON

Minnesota Wild goalie Alex Stalock (32) makes a save against the Colorado Avalanche during the second period of an exhibition NHL hockey game Wednesday, July 29, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)
Minnesota Wild goalie Alex Stalock (32) makes a save against the Colorado Avalanche during the second period of an exhibition NHL hockey game Wednesday, July 29, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

Credit: JASON FRANSON

Credit: JASON FRANSON

Colorado Avalanche's Gabriel Landeskog (92) is stopped by Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk (40) during the second period of an exhibition NHL hockey game Wednesday, July 29, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)
Colorado Avalanche's Gabriel Landeskog (92) is stopped by Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk (40) during the second period of an exhibition NHL hockey game Wednesday, July 29, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

Credit: JASON FRANSON

Credit: JASON FRANSON