Calgary’s 4-3 overtime loss to Coachella Valley last night left them even with the Firebirds through two games of their best-of-five series, but Wranglers head coach Trent Cull is pleased with the bigger picture.

“I thought we played well,” Cull told reporters after Game 2. “I thought it got better with our offense in the third period. We started doing things we had talked about for O-zone play. Overall, I liked that we came from behind… I was happy with our effort.”

Devin Shore scored the winning goal for the Firebirds on a wraparound 7:54 into the extra period. The Wranglers initially thought Coachella Valley may have been offside on the zone entry, or that there may have been contact with goaltender Dustin Wolf, but Cull conceded that the no-calls were correct.

“It was close there,” he said. “The guy’s foot was raised, so I think it was fine with the offside. And the player jammed the puck from behind the net. I think it was a good goal.”

With the series heading to Palm Desert for the final three games, Cull sounded confident that his team will be ready.

“I’ve liked our game, and that will be the plan – to just stick with it.”

The Ontario Reign are playing simply, forward Akil Thomas says.

Successfully, too. And now they are one win away from advancing to the Pacific Division Finals.

The Reign roared into the Calder Cup Playoffs as one of the AHL’s hottest clubs, winning 11 of their last 13 games. A 2-8-0-2 slide from Jan. 17 to Feb. 21 is a distant memory; with four wins to begin the Calder Cup Playoffs, Ontario is now 23-4-0-1 since then, figuring out a winning formula that has made them a prime postseason threat.

“There was part of the season where we weren’t playing that well,” Thomas said after the club’s 4-0 win over Abbotsford yesterday in Game 2 of the teams’ Pacific Division Semifinal series. “We put everything together, and we figured out what works for our team.

“We’re on a roll here, and we’re going to keep going, just trying to play simple. Everyone’s kind of involved, so I think it’s a perfect kind of synergy between everything right now.”

The Grand Rapids Griffins have postseason plans bigger than just one series win, which means the pressure that they face will only increase from here.

They passed an important test yesterday, however. Trying to eliminate Rockford in Game 4 of their Central Division Semifinal series, the Griffins saw got pushback from an IceHogs team playing for their season. Rockford cut the Grand Rapids lead to 3-2 with 13:20 to play and spent the rest of the game looking for the equalizer, unleashing heavy pressure on the Griffins.

But goaltender Sebastian Cossa and the rest of the Griffins held off that barrage, and a 4-2 victory sent Grand Rapids into the division finals to face either Milwaukee or Texas. As trying as it was, head coach Dan Watson was pleased for his club having gone through the experience of hanging on to the lead.

“We’re going to have to handle pressure as we continue moving on here in the playoffs,” Watson told reporters. “It’s going to get harder and harder, and it’s a good learning experience for our young guys.”

― with files from Patrick Williams


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