Milwaukee Admirals vs. Coachella Valley Firebirds - Western Conference Final Preview
The Milwaukee Admirals take on the Coachella Valley Firebirds in the AHL Western Conference Final, starting tomorrow night!
The Admirals square off against the Firebirds in the Western Conference Final.
The Admirals have a rich history in the AHL, consistently being one of the league's most successful and respected franchises. However, it's been quite a long time since the Admirals advanced past round 3 of the Calder Cup Playoffs. The Game 5 heroics of Joakim Kemell sealed the victory for the Admirals against the pesky Texas Stars in Round 3. The Stars played games 3, 4, and 5 at home, but the Admirals squashed the home-crowd vibes with an incredible performance in the first period.
Kemell has 5 goals in the playoffs. He's been a great asset. Meanwhile, our favorite Russian goalie Yaroslav Askarov stopped 37 pucks, only allowing two goals in Game 5.
Luke Evangelista really found his game against the Stars. He had a point in each of the five games against Texas, and he potted 4 goals. Evangelista was shooting at everything, and this is the exact type of game he'll have to play against Coachella Valley. OTF's resident data expert, Bryan, posted about Evangelista here:
Unfortunately, we have not seen much out of Phil Tomasino in either series. He posted an assist in Game 5, but he's not scored in all 10 playoff games. John Leonard missed a bit of the Manitoba series, but he was back on the ice against the Stars in 3 of the 5 games. Karl Taylor has a lot of potential line combinations to play with, but I do expect him to ice a more skilled lineup against the Firebirds. I'm hopeful Zach Sanford and Mark Jankowski will re-discover their scoring touch in Palm Springs.
So--what can Admirals fans expect out of this next series? Let's dive in.
Now that we're in the conference finals, the teams will play a best-of-7 series. Just like in the NHL, four games won equals a series win.
Coachella Valley is in their inagural season in Palm Springs, California.
The Firebirds are the AHL affiliate of the Seattle Kraken, and they're a formidable foe regardless of how "new" they are. They were the second-best team in the AHL, and Milwaukee never played them in the regular season. Coach Karl Taylor said "We've got two more rounds to go, hopefully. And we'll have to dig in and look at [Coachella Valley] to get prepared for that series. But we're going to enjoy tonight and then really get to work."
Coachella Valley plays a responsive game. They respond to pressure from their opponents in terms of physicality and also dangerous shots. They define "clutch." Speaking of clutch, the standout player for the Firebirds is Andrew Poturalski. The AHL PR team ran a great feature on Poturalski's rehab and return to the ice, and he's certainly a catalyst for these upstart Firebirds.
Like the Admirals, the Firebirds have faced elimination in a few must-win Game 5s; the Firebirds have been to Game 5 against Calgary, Colorado, and Tuscon. Poturalski sealed the Game 5 win for the Firebirds with this rocket of a shot, and he's a player to keep your eye on.
Two Firebird forwards lead the AHL stat board in points. Kole Lind has 17 points (7 goals, 10 assists) over 13 games, and Max McCormick has 13 points (7 goals, 8 assists) in 13 games. Actually, the top 5 point-scorers in the Calder Cup Playoffs are Lind, McCormick, Milwaukee's Luke Evangelista, and Firebirds defender Ryker Evans and winger Cameron Hughes. Yep, you read that right--four of the five top scorers in the AHL playoffs belong to Coachella Valley. Milwaukee's defense will have to stifle the Firebirds' attack in the neutral zone, and Askarov will have to be sharper than sharp.
The Firebirds struggled to solve Calgary netminder Dustin Wolf. Wolf was the AHL Netminder of the Year, and the Firebirds had to work hard to get pucks behind Wolf. In net, Coachella Valley has two goalies with NHL experience, Joey Daccord and Chris Driedger.
Daccord boasts a .935 Sv% over 13 playoff games, stopping 418 pucks. He played in last year's Calder Cup Playoffs for Charlotte and has 20 games of AHL playoff action under his belt. He had a .918 Sv% over 38 games in the regular season. Daccord was selected by Seattle in the 2021 expansion draft from the Ottawa Senators--he is a promising young goalie talent.
The fan engagement in Palm Springs is outstanding. It seemed like every seat was filled in the Calgary series, and it's clear the fans are enjoying a party during the game. It's great to see this in such a new franchise.
While researching for this article, I also found this fun tidbit: a local news station ran a great story about Coachella Valley's equipment manager Shawn Thomas. It's a must-watch story--Thomas hopes to be the NHL's first Black equipment manager.
In the Eastern Conference Final, Rochester will face Hershey. Rochester is Buffalo's AHL affiliate and Hershey is Washington's AHL affiliate.
I'd be remiss if I did not mention how much I love the AHL TV package. They have a special playoffs package that has allowed me and the OTF crew to watch every single AHL playoff game. Check out the deals on watchtheahl.com. I promise they're not paying me to advertise their product.
If you don't want to purchase the AHL TV package, be sure to follow the Milwaukee Admirals on social media. I hope to see tons of Predators fans supporting their AHL squad--this playoff experience for Nashville's future stars is incredibly valuable.
As always, let's go Ads! #FullStrength