Colorado Avalanche goalie Darcy Kuemper struck in face by stick, exits Game 3

Colorado goaltender Darcy Kuemper avoided major injury after being struck in the face with a stick during Game 3 of the Avalanche's first-round series against the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Kuemper was struck in the final minutes of the first period by Predators forward Ryan Johansen while he battled Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon for position in front of the net. Johansen's stick blade appeared to slide into Kuemper's face mask and hit him around his right eye. Kuemper fell to the ice in pain before hurriedly being taken off by the Colorado medical staff.

Pavel Francouz came in to replace Kuemper, who would not return to the game. Colorado topped Nashville 7-3 to take a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

It was a scary moment for the Avs' goaltender, but coach Jared Bednar said Kuemper was not seriously hurt.

"We'll get him further evaluated," Bednar said. "He's got some swelling there."

Bednar also said it was possible Kuemper will be available to start Game 4 on Monday.

That would be the best outcome for Colorado. Kuemper had a terrific season for the Avalanche and had channeled that into a strong opening to the playoffs. Colorado's starter was 37-12-4 in the regular season with a 2.54 goals-against average and .921 save percentage, fifth best among NHL goalies with at least 50 starts. Through the first two games of the postseason, Kuemper was 2-0-0 with .941 save percentage and 1.40 GAA. He made nine saves on 10 shots before exiting on Saturday.

Francouz had appeared in six NHL playoff games prior to Game 3, with a 2-4-0 record, .892 save percentage and 3.23 GAA. He has one postseason shutout on his résumé, from a 27-save performance against the Dallas Stars in August 2020.

Kuemper's backup came in cold to grab the win for Colorado again on Saturday, making 18 saves on 20 shots. Francouz said after the game it was tough to see his partner struggling, but he stayed focused on performing for the Avs.

"I only saw he was having a lot of pain," Francouz said of Kuemper. "I was sure I was going in right away."

Colorado is the only team in this postseason field to take a 3-0 lead in the first round. This is the first time in the Predators' franchise history that they've trailed a playoff series by that margin.