ESTERO, Fla. – Following a dramatic overtime win over the Florida Everblades in game one of the ECHL South Division Finals on Friday, the Orlando Solar Bears hoped to take a 2-0 series lead with a win over the Everblades in game two on Saturday.
Entering the third period in that contest, those hopes were dwindling. The Solar Bears were down 2-0 despite firing 27 shots on the net, and the Everblades’ netminder Callum Booth seemed unassailable. But Orlando’s Chris LeBlanc finally got the scoring going for his team off a dish by Kevin Lohan. A second tally by Brent Pedersen sent the series to a second straight overtime.
This time, however, the Everblades prevailed. They controlled the puck and the tempo from the outset of the overtime period, and Florida’s Tommy Thompson delivered the game-winner 12 minutes in.
As their statistics demonstrate, the two teams are evenly matched. Orlando’s goaltender Connor Ingram and Florida’s Booth have been walls for their respective teams. Ingram played a huge part in keeping the score in the opening game tied to the end of regulation, and Booth has proven to be there for his team when things get dicey. Currently, Booth leads the league in the playoffs with a 1.42 goals against average, and Ingram is a close second with a 1.69 GAA. Both are tied with dead even .944 save percentages. This is shaping up to be a goalie battle of epic proportions.
Orlando is currently locked and loaded with offensive firepower. With Hunter Fejes, Jonne Tammela, and Otto Somppi returning from the AHL and joining mainstays like Tayler Thompson, Colby McAuley, Brent Pedersen, and Alex Schoenborn, the Solar Bears have many ways to hurt the Everblades and to break through the Booth wall.
What will make the difference in this series is consistency in playing, improvements to special teams, and keeping rushes and breakaways to a minimum.
In retrospect, the Solar Bears’ loss in game two was a result of some sloppy, tentative play in the opening half. The Solar Bears were steadily stronger and more energized as the game progressed. But falling behind the Everblades and needing a comeback is not going to win this series for the Solar Bears. Their comeback in the third period was inspiring, but they didn’t have enough gas left in overtime to sustain the needed pressure. They need to focus on maintaining pressure and on keeping up a disciplined, systematic two-way approach.
The Everblades, meanwhile, will be looking to remove the Amway Center crowd as a factor. Florida head coach Brad Ralph will have his team primed to take advantage of any soft play on the part of Orlando. This has especially been a problem for the Solar Bears at the start of some periods. If the Everblades can work up another lead, they can count on their defensive grit to lock down more victories.
One thing is certain in this series: You should count on the games to be close, and any turnover, lapse in intensity, or penalty could be the cause for a loss.
The Solar Bears return to Orlando and their enthusiastic fans at the Amway Center on Tuesday, April 30. Head coach Drake Berehowsky would like nothing better than a three-game home ice sweep so that the Orlando crowd can celebrate the team’s first South Division title in front of a friendly crowd on Friday. Should the Everblades win any of these games, however, the series will return to Estero.