With road success in the Western Conference final against Milwaukee, the Coachella Valley hockey brain trust decided to send the victorious squad to the Eastern timezone last week rather than fly back West to Palm Springs and take another cross-country flight a few days later. It all added up to a Game 1 opening road win in the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup Final, a split of the first two games with defending Cup champ Hershey winning Sunday and a total of 15 days away from home for the Firebirds players, coaches and support staff. Here's what to watch for when the puck drops at Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert, CA, Tuesday (7 p.m., AHLTV.com):

Shane Wright and Firebirds' head coach Dan Bylsma speak with the media ahead of tonight's Game 3 of the Calder Cup Finals in Palm Desert.

One: Home Will Be Cookin’

Firebirds fans have earned a distinct reputation across the AHL for being loud, daunting for foes and inspiring to the home squad. The Coachella Valley players, veterans and prospects alike all say they love it down in the southern California desert, and the fan base is the number 1 reason. Players enjoy playing in front of big, engaged, goal-cheering crowds, and CVF supporters provide that and more. The three games are home contests for the Firebirds with a chance to win the Cup in front of those fans. Not surprisingly, coach Dan Bylsma says first things first, as in a win Tuesday and again Thursday before getting the tantalizing prospect of a series clincher Saturday. Hershey are defending champs, we all must remember.

"We'll be looking to feed off the energy of the home crowd," Bylsma said. "It gives us an opportunity after splitting Games 1 and 2."

Two: Embrace the Long Game (and Series)

Bylsma says he and coaches Jessica Campbell and Stu Bickel approach every playoff series as if it will go the maximum number of games. For the Calder Cup Final, that means seven pressure cookers with maybe some overtime mixed in. Players such as veteran Cameron Hughes buy into the mentality, leading to determination and a serious bounce-back in their next game.

"It's good to get the looks," Hughes said about CVF outshooting 34-20 in Sunday's loss, launching 59 total shot attempts to 35 for Hershey (see our Post-Game Instant Analysis stats). “But we've got to make adjustments and just keep pushing. It's a good, tough series."

Along with skaters sticking to what was formidable pressure meeting up with a quality start from Hershey goalie Hunter Shepard, Bylsma said before the series that Firebirds goalie Chris Driedger has been rock solid in net and most especially good at “bouncing back” after a game in which Driedger allows a goal he would like back.

Three: Status of Veteran Forward Poturalski

Firebirds alternate captain and clutch playmaker Andrew Poturalski left Game 1 of the Cup Final with an injury. Bylsma said the first-line center, who was playing in his fourth Calder Cup Final (winning with Charlotte in 2018 and Chicago in 2022), is “day-to-day.” Kraken 2022 first-rounder Shane Wright returned to the lineup in Game 1 after a six-game absence and has filled Poturalski’s top-six forward role during even-strength and power plays impressively. But it is hard to replace the experience Poturalski brings to the AHL’s center stage. Prospect Logan Morrison has been getting more power play looks as well with Poturalski’s status unclear for the games this week in southern Cal. Recently signed NCAA free agent Lleyton Roed made his pro debut as the next player in and impressed Bylsma and teammates with speed and smart hockey plays Sunday.

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