Captain Max McCormick scored three goals in the third period to lead Coachella Valley to a comeback victory.
The Coachella Valley Firebirds didn’t start fast on Thursday, but again provided a fireworks finish in a 6-4 win over the Milwaukee Admirals to take Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals in front of 8,897 inside Acrisure Arena.
In their previous game, on May 19 against the Calgary Wranglers, the Firebirds needed three third-period goals to force overtime. They then scored on sudden death to emerge victorious in a must-win game in front of an angry crowd on their home field.
Six days later, back at home, the Coachella Valley used a similar third-quarter rally to claim victory in a game that could prove significant.
Trailing by one goal in the final period, the Firebirds scored three goals in a span of three minutes and 22 seconds. Then they added an empty fourth net goal for good measure.
Captain Max McCormick scored the first during the Firebirds rally to tie the game, 3-3. Fellow star Andrew Poturalski, who scored the game-winner in overtime in the previous game to eliminate Calgary, then scored the goal that gave Coachella Valley the lead for good.
McCormick scored the next two goals to give him three in the third period for the first playoff hat trick in Firebirds history.
“I think you have to try not to go too high or too low during the playoffs,” McCormick said. “It’s just Game 1, so we have to find a way to bounce back and have a great Game 2.”
The rally was the latest in a series of late-game heroics for this Firebirds team that has shown a knack for rising to the occasion in big moments during its inaugural season in the American Hockey League. Coachella Valley scored overtime goals to win two of its previous three games before Thursday.
Then against the Admirals, it was like the Firebirds flipped a switch once they fell behind and quickly ran away with the game.
“It didn’t really look like we were panicking,” defenseman Jimmy Schuldt said. “We knew we were going to score. It was just a matter of when. We’ve been through all these different situations and all these types of games. We played with a clam attitude but we played with urgency and trusted that he’s going to play the right way. “.
The Firebirds went 1 for 4 on the power play and 3 for 3 on the penalty shootout. Coachella Valley goaltender Joey Daccord recorded 18 saves in the win.
Game 2 between the Firebirds and Admirals is scheduled for Saturday inside Acrisure Arena. The delivery of the disc is at 7 pm
Games 3, 4 and 5 (if necessary) will be played in Milwaukee on May 29, June 1 and 3. If the series extends beyond that, Games 6 and 7 would be at Acrisure Arena.
“We’ve dealt with a lot of adversity and we have different types of games,” Schuldt said. Some high-scoring games, some low-scoring games, so we’re ready for whatever the game throws at us.”
1-0, firebirds: Tye Kartye put Coachella Valley on the board first, at the 4:14 mark, with his first goal for the Firebirds since April 23. Kartye, who missed three weeks while playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the NHL’s Seattle Kraken, once pucked past Yaroslav Askarov with assists from Ryker Evans and Joey Daccord.
1-1: The Admirals responded back 30 seconds later with a Joakim Kemell goal. Adam Wilsby and Spencer Stastney helped on the play.
2-1: On a penalty, Schuldt scored a short-handed goal on a breakaway that allowed the Firebirds to regain the lead at the 5:38 mark of the second period. Alexander True and Matt Tennyson assisted on the goal.
2-2: As in the first period, the Admirals responded quickly. Two minutes after the Firebirds regained the lead, Milwaukee managed to get the puck at a 3-on-1 halftime. Admirals forward Phil Tomasino then lobbed the puck past Daccord to silence the home crowd.
3-2, Admirals: Michael McCaron gave the Admirals their first lead of the game in an open look at the 1:52 mark in the third period.
3-3: McCormick equalized the score with his eighth goal of the season to cheer up the home fans. True and Tennyson assisted on the goal.
4-3, birds of fire: Andrew Poturalski added his second goal in as many games to put Coachella Valley up by a goal just 47 seconds after McCormick tied it. Kartye and Jesper Frödén helped on the play.
5-3: McCormick finished the game with a one-on-one goal at 10:54 in the third to give the Firebirds a two-goal lead. Kole Lind helped.
6-3: McCormick scored his third goal of the game from an empty net in the dying minutes.
6-4: Jimmy Huntington scored a meaningless goal just before the two-minute mark in the game to give Milwaukee its fourth goal of the game.
Firebirds game player
McCormick gets the nod tonight, and not just for the three goals he scored. The 31-year-old forward from Wisconsin was also the emotional leader in the game, mingling with the Milwaukee players and clashing with his teammates at various points in the game. He provided that he was one of the few players who provided a spark, not just the goals, that led the way for Coachella Valley in the final period.
McCormick leads all AHL players with 10 playoff goals this season and is second (behind Lind) with 18 points.
History repeats itself: If history is any indication, Game 1 of a series has been good for the Firebirds. Coachella Valley is 3-0 in Game 1 of this playoff series, all lopsided wins. In the first round they beat Tucson 5-1, in the second round they beat Colorado 6-2, and in the third round they beat Calgary 6-3.
While the Firebirds are now 4-0 in Games 1 this season, they are 0-3 in Games 2.
“Right now, we just have to wait for that Game 2,” Schuldt said. “That’s something that hasn’t really gone well for us, so we’re hoping to change that.”
Hershey pair series: In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Bears blanked the Americans, 2-0, on Thursday to even their best-of-seven series at one game apiece. The game was the 500 all-time game between the Bears and the Americans; while the Firebirds and Admirals played their first matchup.
The winner of the Bears-Americans series will play the Firebirds-Admirals series winner in the Calder Cup Finals. The Bears and Americans now head north to Rochester for Game 3 on Saturday.
Andrew John covers the Coachella Valley Firebirds for The Desert Sun and the USA TODAY Network. Email him at [email protected].