Firebirds offense scorching hot again, force game 7 in Calder Cup Finals

COACHELLA VALLEY, CA - JUN 19, 2023: The Coachella Valley Firebirds vs. Hershey Bears at Acrisure Arena / Calder Cup Finals - Game 6 Photo: (Photo by Eric Fowler/Coachella Valley Firebirds)

Game seven is the ultimate measuring stick of heroes, performances in the clutch, and readiness when the stakes are at their highest.

They won’t get any higher in the American Hockey League than one that has the expansion Seattle Kraken affiliate a victory away from a remarkable championship. The Firebirds used a torrid first period start and two goals by Kole Lind to knot the best of seven series at three games apiece in a 5-2 win over the Hershey Bears in game six of the Calder Cup Finals, before a sellout crowd on Monday at Acrisure Arena. 

Kraken prospect and defenseman Ryker Evans had a pair of assists and leads the Calder Cup Playoffs in scoring among defensemen with 24 points in 25 games. Joey Daccord made 20 saves in net. 

The Firebirds, who went 2-of-4 on the power play, just do not lose when backed up against a wall. History says their behavior has been the most ferocious under those circumstances, improving to 5-0 when facing elimination. Wednesday’s game seven in the California desert, 7pm PT (950 AM KJR), will be their fourth “do or die game” in five series. 

It will also be the ultimate stress test of endurance, as they will play in their 26th playoff game, one shy of a maximum allotment in the Calder Cup Playoffs, and 98th overall including the regular season. Many players on the roster have been grinding since September, when they first converged for Kraken training camp before being funneled to the AHL affiliate. 

But if fatigue crept into their dressing room on Monday, they didn’t show it. The Firebirds, who have put head coach Dan Bylsma a win away from his second championship as a head coach (his Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh came in 2008-09), melted Hershey with a 3-1 lead after the first period and ripped off three unanswered goals after Connor McMichael put Hershey ahead just 1:33 into the game. Max McCormick, John Hayden, and first star and former Boston Bruins farmhand Cameron Hughes all scored 6:42 apart, capped by Hughes’ highlight reel drive to the net for a 3-1 advantage. 

Beck Malenstyn brought the Bears to a 3-2 deficit just 3:28 into the second period, but Lind buried back-to-back goals to put the game out of reach, starting with goaltender Joey Daccord’s home run stretch pass, tape to tape on Lind’s stick, for a left circle blast and 4-2 lead with 8:10 left in the period. 

Lind, who leads the postseason with 30 points, tucked his second goal of the game by smashing a one-timer past Hunter Shepard, 3:57 into the third which bounced Shepard from the game for backup Zach Fucale. 

Shepard let in five goals on 22 shots, while Fucale stopped all six shots he saw in 10:54 of work. 

Every win has gone to the home team in this series, while the Firebirds have won seven home games in a row since mid-May. 

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