ESTERO, Fla. – The Florida Everblades took the ice on Saturday night with every sign that they were ready to take command of the Eastern Conference Final series against the Newfoundland Growlers. The Everblades needed a victory to even things up after Newfoundland’s 2-0 win on Friday night, and it looked like Florida was going to take care of business.
Halfway through the opening period, the Growlers’ Adam Pardy was sent to the sin bin on a tripping call, and a mere 17 seconds later, the Everblades’ power play found the back of the net. Rookie sensation Blake Winiecki redirected a shot from teammate Michael Downing, and for the first time in the series, Florida had scored against Newfoundland.
No more scoring occurred in the first period, but the Everblades out-shot their opponent by a 14-6 margin, and they were clearly the team with the momentum.
In the second period, however, the pendulum had swung to the other side. By strange coincidence, the shot totals were exactly the same as the first period, but now it was the Growlers who had 14, and the Everblades who had a mere 6. Even more troubling, four of those 14 shots off the Newfoundland sticks found the back of the net.
The Everblades’ Callum Booth has been steady in the net, but his team’s defense allowed too many second chances and rushes for him to keep the ship on a steady keel. The Growlers opened the period with a rare three-on-two rush. Scott Pooley shot on Booth’s blocker side, and it was an easy block for Florida’s netminder, but the rebound went right back to Pooley, and he buried the second attempt.
Less than two minutes later, Newfoundland’s Giorgio Estephan intercepted a lazy cross-ice pass in the neutral zone, and he fed Josh Kestner for what would be the game winner. By another odd coincidence, that same duo was responsible for the Growlers’ game winning goal on Saturday night, and Kestner is on course to be in contention for the series’ MVP.
Newfoundlands’ Michael Garteig remained perfect after single the first period goal, so he has now saved 66 of the 67 shots he has faced.
The Growlers managed three additional insurance tallies in the game. These included a power-play goal by Marcus Power, an empty netter by Hudson Elynuik, and a scrappy shot by J. J. Piccinich.
Things had settled down somewhat for the Everblades in the final period, but they needed to regain offensive firepower. Instead, they played a tentative, frustrated, and bland final period though they had few good looks at the net and lost game two 5-1.
They also resorted to desperate efforts to get to Garteig. Both Patrick McCarron and Tommy Thompson were called for infractions against the Growlers’ netminder, and the end of the game saw a big scrum that sent many players from both sides to the locker room early.
The series now moves to Newfoundland where the two teams will square off at 5:30 p.m. EDT (7 p.m. NST) on Wednesday night. The Everblades clearly need a win in the next game to stand a chance of working back into the series. For that to happen, head coach Brad Ralph needs to return his team to the steady, technically solid two-way play that has been the bread and butter of the Everblades’ success. Meanwhile, the Growlers’ head coach John Snowden will need to keep his team on its course and convince them not to take the Everblades for granted. His team can clearly win this series provided the squad remembers that Florida is a fully loaded and capable squad.