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Coming into Game 1 of their opening round series, the Florida Everblades were the heavy favorite to quickly dispatch their in-state rivals, the Orlando Solar Bears. All of the numbers would indicate that Florida would be able to overpower the Solar Bears with their high-powered offense lead by Adam Brace and Casey Pierro-Zabotel. However, Orlando is a team that is very familiar with the Everblades, as Friday night would be the 18th meeting between these two teams including the preseason. Also, Orlando has Garret Sparks between the pipes, and everyone knows that a hot netminder can put their team on their back and carry them throughout the postseason.
Both teams came out firing on all cylinders. The first few minutes of the game were full of back and forth action, but Sparks and Florida goalie Allen York kept the scoresheet clean. Florida would strike first as Nicolas Deschamps would pick up a loose puck in the slot and fire a wrister past Sparks to give the Everblades an early 1-0 lead. Florida had landed the first punch, but Orlando would coming swinging back with a couple of body blows of their own. Jacob Cepis would tie the game on the ensuing Solar Bear possesion, beating York just 17 seconds later. Cepis would strike quickly again, just 122 seconds after his first goal, to give Orlando a 2-1 lead. Orlando had done what they needed to do in the opening frame, knocking Florida back onto their heels.
Unfortunately for Orlando, the two quick goals from Cepis seemed to awaken the beast inside York. Time after time, the Solar Bears threw pucks at the Florida net, and York made save after save, some worthy of ESPN’s Top Ten list. Steven Whitney would tie the game at the 13:27, after Corey Trevino left a beautiful drop pass for Whitney, and his cannon blast beat Sparks. Deschamps would strike later in the 2nd period to put Florida up 3-2, and that is how Game 1 would end.
Both teams learned something in this intense, hotly contested playoff game. Orlando knows that they can give Florida all they can handle and then-some, and also that they can use their speed to get pucks deep into the Florida zone and set up their attack. Florida learned that they can fall behind early, and use their great scoring depth to get contributions from every line. The first game of this series was fast, hard-hitting, intense, and featured some terrific goalie play. This has the makings of a terrific playoff series between two heated rivals.