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Hayden’s playoff performance lifts the Firebirds |

Patrick Features Writer

Some players are slated to play in June.

“It’s a different game in the playoffs,” said the Coachella Valley Firebirds goaltender Chris Driedger said. “[Fewer] skillful tic-tac-toe games and more than shoveling the net.”

Firebirds ahead John Hayden is one of those players, and he brought a shovel last night to put on a show at the Giant Center in a 4-3 win against Hershey to open the Calder Cup Finals. Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Sunday (5 ET, AHLTV, NHL Network).

“He’s a monster on the puck,” the head coach Dan Bylsma Hayden said.

His two goals in Game 1, one of which was shorthanded in the first period, gave him five goals in his past two games and took his season total to nine goals, one shy of the league lead. His 12 points led the Firebirds in the playoffs after he had 26 points (15 goals, 11 assists) in 65 regular season games, and his plus-12 average is the highest in the AHL.

Originally selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the third round in 2013, Hayden scored 21 goals as a senior at Yale but never produced as professionally as he did six weeks ago. He has 17 goals in 249 NHL games with Chicago, New Jersey, Arizona, Buffalo and Seattle, and scored a career-high 17 goals with the Firebirds last season before injuries kept him from much of last season’s run.

What Hayden offers Coachella Valley is a pure, big-bodied wing who can protect the puck. Bylsma found extended chemistry with Hayden’s linebacker at right center Devin Shore again Marian Studenic facing left. Studenic provides top speed to pair with Shore’s intelligence and Hayden’s muscle.

“I think for us our line is a combination of having a lot of experience and being able to play with each other for a long time,” said Hayden.

Hayden is on track to become a free agent on July 1. This spring’s performance should serve him well, whether he stays with the Kraken organization or explores free agency next month. This season’s Firebirds are a heavier, more physical team than the one that fell to Hershey last June, and that starts with Hayden. After Hershey cut Coachella Valley’s lead to 3-2 late in the second period of Game 1, Hayden went inside and laid low before picking up a loose puck and firing it from the left circle past. Hunter Shepard in what could stand as game-winning statistics.

“John has been a bull for us,” said Driedger, who contributed 16 saves in the Game 1 victory. “Even if he didn’t score goals, he would still be one of our most talented players. I can’t put it this way – I’m glad you’re in our team.”

Hayden can slide again. With the Bears already up 1-0 and on the power play early in Friday’s contest, Hayden pounced on the puck in his defensive position before driving past two Bears to beat Shepard and tie the game.

Bylsma credited Hayden’s goal with helping settle his club.

“That start was good for them, there was a lot of jamming, the crowd was into it, a tough place to play, so credit to them for that start,” said Hayden about the Bears. “But I thought we did a really good job of adjusting and getting to our game.”

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