ESTERO, FL – The Florida Everblades owned the Orlando Solar Bears in the regular season, winning 10 of 14 games, but the Bears came out on top in the opening game of their South Division Semifinal series Wednesday night.
Less than 200 miles separate Fort Myers and Orlando and only two goals stood between the arch-rivals.
The first period started fairly slow with each team generating few chances, but that back and forth play came to an end with a goal by the Solar Bears with 8:39 left in the period. Taylor Doherty jumped into a developing 2-on-1 on his way out of the penalty box, making the rush a 3-on-1 break. Eric Faille sent a pass to the opposite circle to Chris Crane who quickly got it out in front to Doherty who was ready just outside the crease for the tap in.
The Blades didn’t take long to respond off a goal by the ever so shifty Matt Berry who capitalized off of Bryce Aneloski’s defensive strip of an Orlando forward. Aneloski hit Matt Berry in stride as he broke into the zone and cut by the defenseman in a one-on-one. Berry skated to the slot before rocketing one by Massa’s blocker to make it a 1-1 game.
The Everblades got into costly penalty trouble early in the second, and the Solar Bears were able to capitalize with another goal off the stick of Doherty who planted himself right outside the crease and hammered the corner pass from Mason Marchment past Alex Nedeljkovic to give Orlando a 2-1 lead.
With 9:09 left in the second, Crane pounced on a rebound off of a Doherty shot that bounced out in front extending the lead to 3-1 for the Solar Bears.
Just eleven seconds into the third, the Blades were able to pull within one, as Orlando turned it over in their zone along the end boards. Brendan O’Donnell picked up the loose puck and popped a pass out to Berry in front who dragged it around Massa for his second goal of the night, making it 3-2 early.
Despite the numerous chances for the Everblades throughout the rest of the third, the Blades were unable to get another past Massa, and with Nedeljkovic pulled for the extra attacker the Solar Bears sealed it with an empty net goal by Denver Manderson.
Ryan Massa earns the win stopping 30 of 32 shots faced, while Nedeljkovic takes the loss allowing three goals on 29 shots faced.
The two teams will meet again in Game 2 on Friday at Germain Arena. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.