Final Regular Season Records:
Florida Everblades: 46-21-2-3 (97 pts, 1st in South Division & Eastern Conference)
Orlando Solar Bears: 36-26-7-3 (82 pts, 4th in South Division & 8th in Eastern Conference)
Series Schedule: (Home Team in BOLD CAPS and all times local):
Game 1 – Wednesday, April 12 – Orlando at FLORIDA 7:30 pm ET
Game 2 – Friday, April 14 – Orlando at FLORIDA 7:30 pm ET
Game 3 – Thursday, April 20 – Florida at ORLANDO 7:00 pm ET
Game 4 – Saturday, April 22 – Florida at ORLANDO 7:00 pm ET
*Game 5 – Sunday, April 23 – Florida at ORLANDO 4:00 pm ET
*Game 6 – Tuesday, April 25 -Orlando at FLORIDA 7:30 pm ET
*Game 7 – Wednesday, April 26 – Orlando at FLORIDA 7:30 pm ET
*=> If Necessary
Season Series Recap:
During the 2016-17 campaign, the Everblades remained in firm command of their in-state rivals, winning 10 out of the 14 tilts. Florida brings an incredibly balanced and disciplined game to the table, and you can tell that they have always put the Solar Bears under a microscope before taking the ice. They won Orlando’s home opener 3-2 on October 22, and they never relented when squaring up against the Solar Bears.
The Solar Bears should be especially concerned about the 3-game home-and-home series this past week that ended their regular season. Clawing for a playoff spot and a possible third seed in the South Division, Orlando was embarrassed on April 5 when it fell 5-1. The Solar Bears fell behind early in that game, and they never succeeded in mounting a solid offensive attack.
The Solar Bears managed to secure its ticket to the playoffs with a 5-3 win over Florida on Friday in front of a sell-out crowd of 9555 (only the second sellout in franchise history). But consider this surprising stat from that game. Orlando ranks #1 in the ECHL in shots on goal, averaging over 37 per game. But on Friday, it was held to measly 18 shots on goal, their lowest of the entire season. Meanwhile, goalie Ryan Massa made a heroic 47 saves to secure the win. Orlando proved that it can squeeze out a win, but the team should also feel fortunate to have done so. On the flip side, Florida might be concerned about the play of its own goalie, Anthony Peters. Fortunately, the Everblades have come up with a solid second netminder in Alex Nedeljkovic, who has shown himself up to the task when he is called upon.
On Saturday, the Solar Bears traveled to the Germain Arena, and the Everblades continued to deal the pain as it handed Orlando a stinging 10-0 loss. Granted, the Solar Bears were resting Massa, leaving Mitch Gillam (playing only his second professional game) in the net. Orlando didn’t seem to be counting on a win, and it might have been playing possum. But of the two teams, Florida is the one which is looking like it is locked and loaded and ready to make the charge for the Kelly Cup.
How Florida Wins:
The series against Orlando would seem to be the Everblades’ to lose. In most statistical categories, Florida is the stronger team, and it has been successful in largely neutralizing the offensive threats of the Solar Bears. Orlando has had difficulty putting up the blistering shots on net that have been such a cornerstone of its success. Consider that Orlando averaged 24 shots on goal during the final series, which is 13 below its SOG average for the year. Here are the keys to a Florida success:
Keep up the solid forecheck while preventing breakaways: This has been a staple of the Everblades when playing the Solar Bears. If they can be successful with their forecheck, Orlando will have problems.
Strong third periods: While its overall statistics show that Florida is decent in the final frame, there have been cases over the past month when the Everblades have sputtered to the finish line.
Offensive firepower: Brendan O’Donnell is tied for the league lead (with David Pacan of the Brampton Beast) with 41 goals, and Brant Harris is fourth in the league in points with 83. If the Everblades can keep up that kind of production, they will be hard to beat.
Beware of sleeping possums: While Florida is feeling confident after spanking Orlando this past week, the Everblades should expect a quicker and more battle-ready opponent when the playoff series starts. Orlando seems to have been content to secure its playoff ticket, and it was not showing Florida its full potential in the most recent games.
How Orlando Wins:
Start out strong: The Solar Bears have shown to consistently have a slow start at the beginning of games, especially against Florida. Florida knows this, and will capitalize on any of Orlando’s sloppy plays during the opening frame. One thing that will benefit Orlando is come out strong, sharp, and ready to battle. Early deficits will be costly in the post-season.
Authoritative clears and breakouts: Another weakness of the Solar Bears that the Everblades have capitalized on is their poor play in the defensive zone. The Everblades bring a mighty forecheck to the table, and this has created much pain for Orlando. The Solar Bears on several occasions have failed to breakout cleanly, and this usually results in Florida piling up shot after shot on goal. It also has defused much of Orlando’s offensive firepower. Crisp passing, clean breakouts, and smart clears will be vital if Orlando wants to have a fighting chance.
Puck control and possession: Orlando’s time of puck possession this season has been fine this season, but against Florida, their possession has been flat. In almost all of the meetings between these two teams, Florida has spent much more time with the puck in its offensive zone. Orlando’s coach Drake Berehowsky has stressed time of possession as a key to his team’s strategy.
Keep up the shots on goal: The Solar Bears lead the entire ECHL in shots on goal, and this has been a key to their winning ways. Florida has largely stifled that threat due to a relentless forecheck and to the weariness that ensues when Orlando is back on its heels.
Improvement on special teams: The Solar Bears’ power play has shown some signs of life recently, but their penalty kill is an area of special concern. Orlando will need to be wise in taking penalties, and it will rely heavily on the presence of Taylor Doherty and Ty Stanton to clear out players in front of the crease. It will also need some of the more nimble defensemen like Jon Jutzi, Eric Baier, and Brendan Miller to activate breakouts and punish an overly aggressive Florida forecheck.
Who Wins This Series?