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The fast-starting Firebirds put on a clinic on how to close out the playoff series
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The fast-starting Firebirds put on a clinic on how to close out the playoff series

This is how you shut down a team.

The Coachella Valley Firebirds discouraged the Calgary Wranglers early with their best stretch of the AHL playoffs and controlled the entire game to earn a thorough, feel-good 3-0 victory on Friday night, the kind they have had so far in the did not reach the postseason.

It would have been difficult to think of a better game for the Firebirds, not only in terms of earning a comfortable win and quickly ending the Pacific Division semifinal series, but also in the way the game script unfolded revolved around a few important developments in particular.

Chris Driedger was impeccable in net and came up with a pair of dynamic saves in the first period to set the tone. And this came after a match where he wasn’t his sharpest. He kind of downplayed it in the post-game media bash, giving the old “some days the puck hits you and other days it doesn’t” routine, but this was a special outing.

And the audience appreciated it too and gave Driedger the ultimate compliment: singing his name. Just like the “Jo-ey! Jo-ey!” chants for last year’s goaltending hero, Joey Daccord. For the first time, the Acrisure Arena rang with chants of “Drie-dger! Drie-dger!” and he said that meant something to him.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen something like this, and it’s pretty special,” Driedger said. “These fans have been incredible from day one. Really incredible to see how the fans have embraced our team. Especially because it’s a melting pot of fans from different backgrounds. We were definitely lucky and we definitely heard them rock tonight.”

The team’s young players also played their best game of the postseason on Friday evening. After three games in which it was the veterans who carried the team, the youth group joined the fray on Friday. Shane Wright grabbed his first goal of the postseason, converting a breakaway after being fed by Cameron Hughes with one of the best passes you’ll ever see.

But Wright wasn’t alone. Ryan Winterton zoomed around the ice causing havoc, Jacob Melanson camped out in front of the net all night and Logan Morrison also pressed the issue with his line.

All in all it was a perfect closeout match. And Firebirds fans probably remember that during the run to last year’s Calder Cup Finals, the closeout wins weren’t easy.

With four of the five series that the team played, last year it turned out that the desperate team usually wins these games. During last year’s play-offs there were five evenly matched games where one team was in position to be eliminated and the other was not. The team on the brink of elimination – sometimes it was the Firebirds, and sometimes it was the opponent – ​​won four of those five games.

That’s what made Friday night’s win so impressive. This was thorough. The offense was buzzing, the defense was stout and the crowd was electric. After experiencing four playoff games with the winner last year, it was nice not to be pushed into another one in the opening series this year.

So on to the next round. Three wins down, eleven more wins to go. Next up is the Ontario Reign with a best-of-5 series starting Wednesday at Acrisure Arena.

The Firebirds will enter the series having just played their best game. Riding a goalkeeper full of confidence, they have a team with deep talent that you just don’t see, high-scoring leaders, crafty veterans and young stars who combine to provide many answers. to the tough questions the postseason can pose.

Coach Dan Bylsma was asked if he had thought about what a series against Ontario would look like, and he had a funny, but honest answer.

“A good coach would say ‘No,'” Bylsma said before admitting that, yes, with Ontario already clinched the spot, he has considered what a series against them would look like. He then talked about their physical play and how this will officially strengthen the rivalry between the two teams. “I think it was important for us to close this out tonight. So now we can fully concentrate on the next series.”

Fans can now join Bylsma in turning their attention to the Reign. If Friday night’s Firebirds show up every night, there will be even more closing opportunities this spring.

Shad Powers is a columnist for The Desert Sun. Reach him at [email protected].