Written by Judd Spicer
Fresh off a dominating, 5-1 victory over Tucson in the deciding Game 3 in the opening round of the Calder Cup Playoff, the CV Firebirds ready for a quick Round 2 turnaround against another aviary foe.
In the best-of-five Pacific Division semifinals, the second-seeded ‘Birds (48-17-5-2) play on to face the Colorado Eagles, the division’s No. 3 seed. Colorado (40-22-7-3) extended its own season via a 2-0 opening round win over Ontario.
The series begins on Wednesday, April 26 at Colorado’s Budweiser Events Center (Loveland, Colo.) at 6:05 p.m. (Pacific) before a back-to-back turnaround on Thursday the 27th, also in Colorado at 6:05.
The series returns to the desert on Sunday, April 30, with a 3:00 p.m. puck drop at Acrisure Arena; if necessary, Game 4 is slated for Wednesday, May 3 at 7:00 p.m. and (if necessary) a deciding Game 5 will be held at Acrisure on Friday, May 5 at 7:00.
For some added intrigue, the series presents a unique organizational crossover, with the team’s respective NHL parents clubs, Seattle and Colorado, facing off in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. On the 26th, the Avalanche play the Kraken in Game 5 of their series while the Eagles host the Firebirds a mere 50 miles away.
As the ‘Birds aim to extend their inaugural season a round further, here’s the ice & times of the series against the Eagles.
The Lovely Cold of Home
In some contrast with CV’s familiarity with Tucson (the teams played eight times this year), the Firebirds and Eagles faced-off on but four occasions, with two of the duels taking place way back in November.
And as a potential narrative for what lies ahead: All of the games were tight, with the home team winning each time.
In the ‘Birds lone trip to Loveland this season, CV lost back-to-back overtimes games to the Eagles on November 18 and 19 (2-1 and 3-2, respectively). On January 4th, Colorado made its Acrisure debut in a 4-2 loss to the hosts, and on April 1, the Firebirds’ beat the Eagles 3-2 in overtime at Acrisure.
Sensing a trend? Yup, four games, three going to OT, and mere 10-9 scoring edge for CV across the quad of contests.
Following the win over Tucson, Firebirds’ head coach Dan Bylsma took a moment to look ahead to the division semis.
“They’re a team that plays a fast, grinding game,” said Bylsma of the Eagles. “It’s kind of what I hope to be a mirror image of how we play. So, you’re buttin’ heads with a similar opponent. And every one of the games we played against them has been a bit of a marathon, a bit of a punch-fest going both ways.”
Further trending would extend to Colorado’s penchant for close, low-scoring games and, akin to the Firebirds – winning a lot at home.
“It’s a tough place to play, in their building,” Bylsma said of the Budweiser Events Center. “It will be everything we can handle. How they play, makes it tough; when you play with that much speed and coming at you repeatedly over-and-over. And their building also makes it tough, it’s a . . . ‘quaint’ place, and their fans are energetic.”
Echoed forward Kole Lind:
“Colorado is a tough team. They play a solid game, try to frustrate you. But I like our game up against them. I know their building is a tough place to play, but we’re gonna’ come in there with a lot of excitement and go in there to get one if not two games. That’s what I’m most excited about, to get those first two out of the way and then get back here in front of our fans.”
As further evidence of home comforts, the Firebirds led the American Hockey League in home wins this season with 26, while Colorado was tied for fifth in the league with 22.
As witnessed in the four games versus CV this year, Colorado neither scores a lot of goals, nor allows many. The 210 Goals Scored on the season for the Eagles ranked just 12th in the Western Conference this season, while their 187 Goals Against charted as second-best in the West (and third-best in the entire league).
Inversely, CV’s 257 goals on the year ranked second in the conference and third overall in the AHL.
In their search of scoring, the Eagles rely on 28-year-old winger Charles Hudon. A vet of 380 career AHL games, Hudon’s first season with Colorado resulted in a team-high 54 points, which charted 38th in the league. In the Firebirds’ January 4th win over Colorado, Hudon tallied a goal and an assist, then added another assist in the ‘Birds win on April the 1st.
The only other Eagle charting over 40 points this year was center Alex Galchenyuk, who matched 16 goals with 26 assists.
In the series win over Ontario, the Eagles found some upstart scoring by way of center Cedric Pare’; after joining Colorado in November (following four games with Belleville) Pare’ netted a modest eight goals in his 42 games with the Eagles. Come the taste of the postseason, however, Pare’ found an enhanced groove, netting three goals and adding an assist in the two games against the Reign.
For CV, top goal-scorer Lind showed no slow in the playoffs; after leading the ‘Birds with 30 goals in the regular season (tied for 7th in the AHL), Lind added three goals (and three assists) to his seasonal resume’ in the three games against Tucson.
Firebirds’ team captain and leading scorer Max McCormick also extended his stellar year to the postseason, tallying four points (two goals, two assists) versus the Roadrunners, while Ryker Evans added four assists of his own in the opening series and league Rookie of the Year Tye Kartye netted a pair of goals en route to the second round.
Of added note is the Game 3 score from touted rookie Shane Wright. After netting nary a goal in his three-game regular season spring return to CV, and then not scoring in the first two games of the Tucson series, Wright’s fine one-timer in Game 3’s opening period may well be the start of something special. Also notable is that Wright’s score came compliments of an assist from fellow 19-year-old rook David Goyette; after not dressing in first two games of the series, Goyette was lined with Wright early and often in Game 3, and their fresh legs could prove pivotal in a Colorado series which will present lower scoring outcomes.
As witnessed via CV’s trio of home games against Tucson, the AHL playoff scheduling can be . . . interesting. Hence, travel/cost taken into account and arena availability considered, the ‘Birds, despite being the high seed, play the first two games versus Colorado on the road before returning to Acrisure to host the series’ final three contests (if necessary).
If past equals prologue (and it likely will), the CV/Colorado games will be tight and the series will be close, translating to a near-imperative that the Firebirds take flight early in the series and grab a game in Loveland; clipping wings early in Game 1 would be ideal, though a Game 2 win would also suffice.
Prediction: If CV can indeed win one on the road and force a best-of-three at Acrisure, the Firebirds win in five and skate on to the Pacific Division finals.