ORLANDO, Fla. – After sweeping the South Carolina Stingrays 4-0 in the opening round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs, the Orlando Solar Bears now find themselves as the team in need of a comeback. The Florida Everblades handed them two straight losses in the first two games of the South Division Finals. Those games were in the Germain Arena in Estero, and the Solar Bears now look to get some life by playing in front of its own fans in the Amway Center on Thursday night.
In the opening two games, the Solar Bears showed that they can stay competitive with their in-state rivals through much of the game. But as the third periods went on, the Everblades turned on the jets to put both games out of reach in the closing stages. They were like those mean playground bullies who let you think you are going to be o.k. during recess, but who then swoop in just as the bell is about to ring to take your lunch money.
Looking back on the opening games of this South Division Finals series, one wonders whether it would have been better if the series against the Stingrays had been closer. While all four of those games were hard fought, if the Stingrays had won a game or two, would the Solar Bears have had a more gritty approach in the opening games against the Everblades?
There is still hope for the Solar Bears to regain that grit and to come back in the series. But to do so, they will need to get in the trenches and to reverse several trends. A loss in either of the next two games in Orlando would spell almost certain doom. Meanwhile, a win in all three of the upcoming home games would give the Solar Bears momentum and a fighting chance to pull off a series upset. If Orlando were to claim all three games on Amway Center ice, the team would move back to Estero with the upper hand, needing only a split to claim the South Division title.
Here are the keys for the Solar Bears in these upcoming games:
Play Physical, but Stop Taking the Bait
One of the big setbacks for Orlando in this round is the number of penalties the team has had called against them. In the first game, the Solar Bears racked up 14 penalty minutes compared to only six for Florida. But that was nothing compared to game two, when the Solar Bears collected a whopping 68 penalty minutes compared to only 26 for Florida.
It’s hard to put up shots and score when you are constantly playing down a man. Prior to Saturday’s game, Orlando had been perfect on the PK in the playoffs, but with all the penalties being taken in game two, this streak came to an end. Florida has played smart, and it has taken advantage of Orlando’s penalties to keep the upper hand. One thing that will help the Bears is to not let the Everblades get to them mentally. Some of the penalties have been triggered due to Orlando getting frustrated by Florida.
In short, Orlando needs to play a hard, physical game with a disciplined defense, and they need to be smart in dealing with the Everblades who will be goading them into taking infractions.
Up the Shot Total…and the Scores
Another thing that will have a big impact is scoring more goals. Two-goal games may have been enough in the series with the Stingrays, but with a team like Florida that has so much offensive power, low scoring games aren’t going to win the series.
The Solar Bears have been outshot in five out of the six periods played, and in both games, they have been held to less than 30 shots. In the division finals, Orlando has only two goals to its credit, one by Hunter Fejes and the other by Chris LeBlanc.
The Solar Bears need to challenge the Everblades’ netminder Martin Ouellette. He has not faced any real tests in the playoffs thus far. To be successful, the Solar Bears need to set up traffic, take shots, and look for deflections and rebounds.
Play the Full 60 Minutes
The Everblades are always quick to take advantage when a team is letting up on the gas or getting frustrated. The Solar Bears know they can match their opponent when they are playing hard as a unit with everyone giving their all. Consistency and a full 60-minute commitment from all players will be key in these next games. Lapses and sluggish play in any of the periods will invite disaster.
Defend the Den
An advantage for the Solar Bears will be having the energetic Amway Center crowd behind them in the next three games. The loyal fans in Orlando will be looking to give the Solar Bears the jolt they need to come back in the series. The Solar Bears are currently averaging 7490 in playoff attendance, which is number one in the ECHL. If the Solar Bears will give the crowd a reason to cheer, they will be rewarded.
The Solar Bears and the Everblades square off in the Amway Center on Thursday and Friday night at 7 p.m. EST. Game five, if necessary, will be played on Sunday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. EST.