Playoff hockey in the American Hockey League is a lot of things, but no one says getting through four to five rounds is easy. Yes, Kraken affiliate Coachella Valley, receiving a bye in the first round, is indeed 9-2 in the first 11 games of another deep postseason run. But no, they didn’t go double-digits on a nine-game win streak, dropping Game 4 to Milwaukee in the Western Conference Final.

Unlike Games 2 and 3 in this Western Conference final, in which the visiting Firebirds scored opening goals in the first half-minute, Milwaukee avoided a third-straight tarnish and did one better by scoring the first goal some seven minutes into the first period. Firebirds defenseman Connor Carrick tied the game at 1-1 during the 12th minute of this elimination game, and then the two rivals (this is a rematch of CVF winning the West last spring in six games) traded goals late in the period.

Admirals 2022 first-rounder Joakim Kemell (17th overall) scored his second goal of this spring’s Calder Cup Playoffs to make it 2-1 at 17:04. Undrafted free agent and promising Kraken prospect Logan Morrison scored his first-ever postseason pro goal at 18:22 to knot the game. Morrison is centering veteran Cameron Hughes and fellow rookie Ryan Winterton (3rd assist of playoffs) on a line this round, and the line has been clicking.

Milwaukee took control of the game in the second period, scoring mid-frame. Then Admirals forward Zach L’Heureux scored his 10th goal of the playoffs, beating CVF goalie Chris Driedger stick-side with a perfectly placed upper corner shot. L’Heureux notched the goal with 43 seconds remaining. L’Heureux has now scored ten postseason goals and added six assists in 15 games, already at one-third of his regular season totals (19 G, 29 A, 48 points).

“(Milwaukee) came out with a push right of the hop and that showed itself in our execution and breaking the puck out," Bylsma said post-game, per Shad Powers of the Palm Springs Desert Sun. "Two of their goals were a direct result of turnovers by us on the breakout, and our lack of execution led to their offensive zone chances. That's something we've been very good at in the first three games and weren't very good at tonight.”

The Milwaukee crowd no doubt enjoyed the third period with their team clogging the Firebird’s efforts in the final 20 while scoring three more goals in the final seven minutes for a 7-2 (one of the goals was an empty-netter when coach Dan Bylsma pulled Driedger for the extra attacked with five minutes left and the score at 5-2.

"The buzzer at the end of the game gives us a chance to take a deep breath and evaluate what we were good at and not good at and get back ready for Game 5,"  said Bylsma, looking to lead Coachella Valley to the Calder Cup Final for the second straight year, though potential repeat opponent Hershey didn’t sweep either Thursday, losing a 3-2 road game in Cleveland. "Regardless of the scoreboard, particularly after a loss, these guys have time and time again kept coming back with their best hockey the next game. We got punched in the face tonight and we got a loss, but we'll be ready to come back Saturday."

To be duly noted: Milwaukee is now 5-0 in elimination games, including winning three times to erase a 2-0 in a best-of-five series against the Texas Stars.

Tempers flared more than or even twice in late shifts. Andrew Poturalski, Ryker Evans, the aforementioned Hughes and Ville Ottavainen were all whistled for misconducts in the last two minutes, with ten penalties total called on the Firebirds in the final three minutes, while Milwaukee incurred four penalties. Game 5 is Saturday night, with the Firebirds hoping not to need to play Games 6 and 7 next week in the southern California desert.

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