The Coachella Valley Firebirds have picked an ideal time to string together an eight-game winning streak. After losing the opening game of a postseason series against Calgary, the Kraken's American Hockey League affiliate reeled off six wins in a row to close out Calgary and another division rival, Ontario, to advance to the Western Conference final for the second straight year.

Friday night’s eighth consecutive win, a 3-1 home victory in front of a sold-out Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert, CA, stakes Coachella Valley to a 2-0 advantage in games against Central Division champ Milwaukee. AHL veteran Andrew Poturalski scored the game’s first goal in the first 28 seconds, and young top-pair defenseman Ryker Evans doubled the lead 15 minutes into the opening frame, with the assist going to promising prospect Logan Morrison. The goals were the second of the postseason for both players.

‘American Idol’ Winner Revs Up Crowd, Firebirds

Before the game, 2024 “American Idol” winner and local Indio resident Abi Carter sang the national anthem and dropped the ceremonial puck to ovations and “Abi! Abi” chants (Kraken goalie Joey Daccord knows all about those). Carter’s stirring anthem performance clearly amped up the Firebirds players.

"I'm always listening to the anthem, but tonight was something special for sure," said Dan Bylsma, currently and squarely focused on coaching Coachella Valley before beginning his Kraken head coach duties in earnest. "Most of us [players and coaches and significant others] have been watching her story and watching her, so I think everyone was jazzed up about her performing the anthem. And she was outstanding, and it got the building going."

CVF forward Kole Lind, who scored a vital third goal and assisted on the Evans goal, acknowledged Carter’s presence was an energy boost. Goal-scorer and alternate captain Poturalski might have had his own extra motivation with the birth of his daughter before this conference final began.

“It's not very often you get an "American Idol" winner in the building to sing the national anthem, so, yeah, and she sounded unbelievable and definitely got us going," said Kole Lind, as per Palm Springs Desert Sun columnist Shad Powers. "I know the boys were fired up on the bench. We were yelling at each other and excited to go. That was obviously a pretty special moment to have her in the building. Glad she came out."

Keeping the Two-Goal Lead, Driedger and ‘D’ Shine

Milwaukee halved the lead early second period, but Firebirds leading scorer Kole Lind, a standout in last year’s deep playoffs run, tallied his fourth goal in nine postseason games to regain the two-goal lead. The Firebirds outshot the visiting Admirals, 16-8, in the middle period to keep control of the game. Milwaukee responded with ten shots in the final period but couldn’t solve goalie Chris Driedger, who finished with 31 saves.

Bylsma liked the grit and discipline of his charges in protecting that two-goal lead in the final 20 minutes, which included quality scoring chances in the final minutes and key blocks, including one late from AHL rookie forward Ryan Winterton, notable that he and rookie D-man Ville Ottavainen were both on the ice to end the game with Milwaukee deploying the extra attacker.

“We take a lot of pride in playing defense, said Bylsma post-game. “We take a lot of pride in keeping the puck out of our net. You gotta be able to check, gotta be able to defend, gotta be able to block shots ... great defensively, outstanding in protecting the house and breaking pucks out. And our goalie was up to the task when he needed to make a save.”

The best-of-seven series now moves to Milwaukee for Games 3, 4 and 5 (the latter if necessary). The slate is Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Firkus, WHL Champ Moose Jaw Falls in Memorial Cup Semifinal

When Kraken 2022 second-rounder and Western Hockey League Moose Jaw star Jagger Firkus scored his second goal of the 2024 Memorial Cup in the first period of Friday’s semifinal against host squad Saginaw, it tied the game at 1-1 going into the first intermission. But the wheels fell for Moose Jaw in the second period, when Saginaw busted out for five goals and 6-1 lead that finished with a 7-1 final score. Saginaw now plays Ontario Hockey League rival London on Saturday for the Memorial Cup championship. Firkus finished the tourney with two goals and two assists in four games.

Firkus Named CHL Player of the Year

The Canadian Hockey League announced Saturday that Firkus has been named CHL Player of the Year, spanning the three leagues of major junior hockey under the CHL umbrella. Ontario Hockey League star Ethan Cowen and Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League standout Mathieu Cataford were the other finalists. Firkus also won the Western Hockey League’s Four Broncos Memorial Trophy to become his league’s representative for the CHL honor, which is the David Branch Player of the Year Award to honor former CHL president Branch, who held the role from 1996 until retirement in 2019.  

Firkus finished his final amateur season with 61 goals and 65 assists for 126 points in 63 regular season games, then added 32 points (14 G, 18 A) in 20 appearances in the WHL Playoffs. Past winners from the WHL include some impressive names and one quite familiar to Kraken fans:

2022-23: Connor Bedard, Regina Pats
2021-22: Logan Stankoven, Kamloops Blazers
2009-10: Jordan Eberle, Regina Pats
1997-98: Sergei Varlamov, Swift Current Broncos
1987-88: Joe Sakic, Swift Current Broncos

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