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In Game 3 of their East Divisional Semifinal series against the Florida Everblades, Garret Sparks made a statement with his 48 save performance. Despite Florida’s 2-0 series lead, the Orlando Solar Bears were not going anywhere, and in fact, this series was far from over. It is no mystery that solid goaltending can mask other weaknesses on the ice, especially in the postseason. While Orlando has gotten themselves in trouble numerous times throughout this series, Sparks has bailed them out almost every time.
Game 4 would be no different. Sparks backed up his monumental performance from the previous game with another gem, this time turning away 37 of the 40 shots fired at him by the Everblades, capping a 4-3 Orlando victory to tie the series at two games a piece. While Sparks was stellar once again, the hero of Game 4 was Orlando forward Brady Vail.
The two teams were knotted at two through 40 minutes of play, when Vail beat Florida netminder 1:17 into the final frame for a short-handed goal to give Orlando a lead that they would never surrender. Vail would add the insurance goal at the 8:50 mark of the third period that would be the eventual game-winner, as a late Florida tally from Jesse Graham would pull the Everblades to within one, but that is all they would be able to muster.
Now these two teams are poised for a pivotal Game 5 Saturday night in Orlando. While the Everblades do not want to forfeit anymore momentum, they have the luxury of knowing that Games 6 & 7 will be on their home ice. I would consider this more of a “must-win” situation for Orlando. Falling behind 3-2 in the series and having to sweep Florida on their home ice in the final two games of the series would be a daunting task, especially since Florida is 7-2-1 against Orlando at the Germain Arena. With their nine goals in the last two games, in addition to 85 saves from Sparks over that same stretch, Orlando knows that they can play and beat Florida on any given night, but the mountain would not be as steep if they take Game 5.