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MX News Update 2024


Firebird’s special playoff skill? Win when they’re not at their best

The Coachella Valley Firebirds were not at their best on Wednesday night. The punishment killing was terrible. Goalkeeper Chris Driedger had a tough night. They took the lead three times.

But here’s the thing, and most importantly, they still won. This team’s ability to find a way to win across different styles of play – something the postseason seems to be able to offer – is perhaps its most special trait.

After Wednesday’s crucial 7-5 win, where they won despite conceding “three and a half” power play goals, the Firebirds are now one Friday night win away from advancing to the next round. When you cross the threshold into another round of the playoffs, they don’t ask you how good the wins looked that got you there.

After all, it is the playoffs, not everything will go exactly as coach Dan Bylsma paints it on the whiteboard. Devin Shore described it this way.

“You develop a plan and you do your best to execute your plan, but I guarantee things are going to go wrong out there,” he said. “And on Friday night it goes wrong again. It’s about sticking to it, and realizing that every shift, every little play in a match is independent of the previous plays, regardless of whether they went well or not.”

In Wednesday night’s case, things seemed to go wrong almost immediately after something went right. The Firebirds led 2-1, after which the score became 2-2. The Firebirds led 3-2, after which the score became 3-3. The Firebirds led 4-3, after which the score became 4-4. Oh my god, the Firebirds scored twice in a row in both halves of a double-minor power play to go ahead 6-4. A few seconds later it was 6-5.

There were about a dozen different palpable mood swings for the smaller-than-normal, but still rowdy crowd at Acrisure Arena. Exuberant cheering with every goal, nervous murmurs with every goal conceded.

There’s a different feeling about this year’s playoffs among the Firebird faithful, and you could feel it in the air on Wednesday. Last year was all about the joy of something new. Each series brings a new reason for excitement. No pressure, just the pleasure of a fun ride.

This year is busy. What if the fun ride ends after four playoff games instead of 26? That unsettling feeling that comes with not meeting expectations is playing out for fans this year in a way that didn’t exist last year. With each Wrangler response on Wednesday, the nerves became more frayed and you could feel it.


Video: Coachella Valley Firebirds playoff run watched by Desert Sun sports reporters

Sports reporters Andrew John and Shad Powers discuss this year’s Coachella Valley Firebirds in the postseason.

But the Firebirds had the upper hand. The players stayed focused and kept their distance. They were able to do exactly what Shore described and not let a recent failure carry over to the next shift.

“You can’t play the score,” said captain Max McCormick, who scored twice, including an empty-netter, that put the game away and left the crowd exhaling. “Penalties happen, things you may not agree with, you can’t let that influence you. You have to try to keep your process going for the full sixty minutes. I think you’ve seen that from us throughout the regular season. Sometimes we did that too.” “We didn’t give our best or it wasn’t the prettiest game, but we just had to step up in the lineup to find a way to win.”

There were many players who fit that step-up role Wednesday night, most notably Marian Studenic, who had what Bylsma called his best game as a Firebird. He sacrificed his body early in the game with two big blocks, one of which hit him so hard that he had to be helped off the ice. But he stayed in the game and scored two big goals as the hockey gods rewarded him for his courageous play.

Bylsma said Wednesday’s match was no different from Sunday’s 4-3 win in extra time. The Firebirds didn’t play perfect hockey, but they also didn’t stray from the path amid the swirl and chaos of all the twists and turns that both games presented.

“You could say the same thing about Game 2, in that tonight didn’t go as planned, but I think our guys and the leadership in our room and the mentality that we’re playing with is we’re just going to keep doing it over and over again, as best we can,” Bylsma said. “And that showed in Game 2 and it showed again tonight. We just have to keep going and keep the same mentality.”

Wednesday night’s game featured the most goals in any Firebirds playoff game. Friday’s game could be completely different. The secret to the Firebirds’ success is that they are comfortable with any type of game and believe that ultimately it is the best way to continue playing “Firebirds hockey.”

“There are a lot of surprises in the playoffs,” Shore said. “You have to play the game you are in. The next game could be 1-0, right? Either way, you have to stick to the plan. Don’t feel sorry for yourself and just keep playing, keep enjoying it.” It’s fun out there.”

So take it from Shoresy Firebirds fans. This playoff ride – which we now know will last until Sunday at worst and until mid-June at best – will be bumpy, but also fun. Wednesday’s game was both.

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