After dropping the first two games of the AHL’s Western Conference Finals, the Milwaukee Admirals have stormed back to tie the series 2-2 following a 5-2 win over the Coachella Valley Firebirds Thursday night at UW-Panther Arena.
Milwaukee is now 5-2 in the postseason at home.
“You know what the guys are pretty strong in how we’re trying to play the game,” Admirals head coach Karl Taylor told reporters after the win. “That’s a really good team on the other side and it was an emotional game tonight, there was lots of energy in the building. I just think there was a lot of guys out there battling hard. We talk about it all year, there are always moments in a game where you can be a great teammate and some of our guys really stepped up today in that area and that’s really important for our team.”
Milwaukee was 5-for-5 on the penalty kill against a Firebirds team that’s scored the second-most power-play goals (12) in the postseason.
Admirals goaltender Devin Cooley, made 30 saves in Thursday’s win, now has a combined 58 saves on 61 shots in back-to-back wins. He’s made consecutive starts for the first time since Jan. 11-14 when teammate Yaroslav Askarov was playing in the NHL for the Nashville Predators.
Cooley now has 1.55 goals against average and a .951 save percentage over the last two games. It’s also just the second time that the high-powered Firebirds, who are averaging an AHL-best 3.58 goals per game, have lost consecutive games this postseason.
Coachella Valley started the scoring, sneaking one past Cooley five minutes into the contest. Forward Alexander True skated out of the left corner and backhanded a pass to defenseman Jimmy Schuldt for a shot that was hammered home to take the early 1-0 lead.
The lead lasted just a few minutes, however, as Ads forward Jimmy Huntington picked up a pass from defenseman Keaton Thompson and fired it forward Philip Tomasino who attempted a shot on goaltender Joey Daccord. Tomasino’s shot was blocked and deflected up in the air by Firebirds forward Cameron Hughes. Daccord couldn’t track the airborne puck and it trickled into the net over his blocker to even the game 1-1.
“I don’t think I got off to the start that I wanted to,” Tomasino said. “As the playoffs have gone on my play has amped up. My linemates and I have really been connecting especially this round with Huntington and (Anthony Angello).”
— x – Milwaukee Admirals (@mkeadmirals) June 2, 2023
Top Predators prospect Joakim Kemell had an early chance in the second period that went up and out of play off of Daccord, then forward Isaac Ratcliffe scored a power-play goal to put Milwaukee ahead 2-1. Ads forward Egor Afanaysev fired a shot on the net that deflected off Tomasino and fell down for Ratcliffe to finish the play.
“It was probably the difference in the game tonight,” Tomasino said of Milwaukee’s special teams performance. “Fortunately, we were able to be part of that.”
Coachella Valley didn’t stay down long as defenseman Eddie Wittchow fired a quick shot from the top of the zone by the end of the Milwaukee bench. Wittchow had traffic in front of Cooley and scored the equalizer to make it 2-2.
Then Kemell, who was left all alone in the left circle, rifled a shot past Daccord glove side on a no-look pass from forward Kiefer Sherwood to give Milwaukee back the lead. The goal was Kemell’s fourth on the man-advantage this postseason, tying him for the AHL lead with Rochester’s forward Jiri Kulich. He also ranks second among skaters with eight postseason goals.
Since joining Milwaukee, Kemell has 14 goals and 22 points in 26 games.
Disgusting no look pass from Kiefer Sherwood in the bumper spot to Joakim Kemell. Kemell buries it
3-2 Admirals pic.twitter.com/w0kZYza1Gl
— The Calder Farmstead: an AHL podcast (@CalderFarmstead) June 2, 2023
In the early moments of the third period, Ads forward Michael McCarron stripped the puck from Firebirds forward Andrew Poturalski and drove down the ice with teammate Mark Jankowski. McCarron was fed the puck back and slapped it home on a back-hand shot, giving the Admirals a 4-2 just 17 seconds into the period.
BIG MAC WITH ANOTHER BIG GOAL 🍔 pic.twitter.com/5n1PfC2ezi
— x – Milwaukee Admirals (@mkeadmirals) June 2, 2023
Coachella Valley pulled Daccord from the net with 2:42 to play in regulation. Afanasyev was tripped by Schuldt but broke free on a breakaway, and the Russian forward buried an empty netter for the 5-2 advantage, sealing the Game 4 win.
At the end of regulation, things got chippy when Firebird’s forward Carsen Twarynski hit a defenseless Kemell along the boards as time expired. Kemell fell to the ice and had to be helped to the locker room after the hit. McCarron didn’t take kindly to the cheap shot, sticking up for his teammate as he mixed it up with a few Firebirds player after the hit.
“McCarron, at the end of the game, no problem with him trying to protect a young 18-year-old kid who gets cross-checked in the face,” Taylor said. “That’s McCarron’s job and he did his best to do that with no time on the clock. We’re not going to allow those things to occur, that’s never going to happen here.”
Tomasino said he felt like the hit on Kemell was “pretty gutless.”
“We’re sticking together, and when we’re composed, I think that’s when we’re at our best,” Tomasino said. “We’re playing for each other but at the same time we can’t cross that line.”
Best view so far of the hit on Joakim Kemell at the end of regulation in Game 4. He had to be helped off the ice.
— Nick Kieser 🏒 (@KieserNick) June 2, 2023
Game 5 of the series is Saturday at Panther Arena at 6 p.m. CT. It’s the Admirals’ final home game of the series — and potentially the season — if they don’t advance to the Calder Cup Final.