ESTERO, Fla. – The Florida Everblades and Newfoundland Growlers played over 53 minutes of scoreless hockey on Saturday night, and it wasn’t for a lack of shots on net.
Prior to the game-winning goal, the Growlers had 29 shots on goal versus 28 by the Everblades. Florida’s Callum Booth and Newfoundland’s Michael Garteig had been perfect on all 57 of those attempts.
In the end, it was a costly turnover in the defensive zone which decided the game. Florida’s Michael Downing broke up a Newfoundland rush and dished the puck to teammate Justin Auger who seemed to be set up for an easy exit from the defensive zone. But, Newfoundland’s Josh Kestner picked off the puck from behind and found Giorgio Estephan waiting open in the slot. A quick snap past Booth’s blocker decided the game in the Growlers’ favor.
After that tally, Florida upped the offense pace. When the Everblades’ Alex Tonge was called for goaltender interference near the 17 minute mark, it seemed like Newfoundland could breathe a sigh of relief. But the Everblades’ penalty kill unit managed to keep up the pressure and had the Growlers back on their heels. Florida’s Tommy Thompson put on a wickedly deceptive backhanded shot against Garteig right in front of the net that nearly foiled the Growlers’ goaltender at the end of the penalty kill.
Newfoundland, however, managed to weather the offensive push of the Everblades, and when Booth was pulled, managed to tally an additional goal in the empty net by Scott Pooley.
The Eastern Conference Final shows all signs of being a low-scoring, grinding affair. Both teams are committed to two-way play, and they are respecting the offensive threats on the ice. During the game, the Everblades had more opportunities in the slot area, but the Growlers managed to close ranks eventually to clear the puck to safety. The game had a single clear breakaway attempt by the Growlers’ Marcus Power, and there were preciously few odd-man rushes.
The teams return to the Hertz Arena ice tonight at 7 p.m. EDT. Expect the Everblades to test Garteig and to increase the level of physical play. The Friday game was cleanly fought, but there were signs that the frustration and desperation level of the Everblades was increasing in the final minutes.
The Growlers, meanwhile, will be looking to take command of the series by stealing both of the games in Estero. If they can manage that, they will be well positioned to win the series in front of its home fans in St. John’s, as the Eastern Conference Final moves to Newfoundland next week.
If you want to see the lamp getting lit, then the Western Conference Final will offer more of your type of action. But if you are up for some classic hockey siege warfare with heroic defensive stands, vigorous forechecks, and razor-thin victories, then the Growlers and Everblades battle will give you plenty to savor.