With the 2017 Kelly Cup playoffs rapidly approaching, the teams in each division are trying their best to be in the playoff picture. One of the tightest battles right now is in the South Division.
While the Florida Everblades currently lead the South comfortably with 87 points, four of the other teams in the division — Greenville Swamp Rabbits, Cincinnati Cyclones, Orlando Solar Bears, and South Carolina Stingrays — are competing for the remaining three slots. It is a very tight race, as the teams are separated by only a few points, and even Florida has begun to sputter, making the race for the playoffs even tighter and more uncertain. The only thing certain at this point is that one of these teams will be left out.
- Florida Everblades
1 game @ Kalamazoo (March 22)
2 games @ Toledo (March 24 & 25)
1 game @ Fort Wayne (March 26)
3 games vs Kalamazoo (March 29, 31 & April 1)
2 games @ Orlando (April 5 & 7)
1 game vs. Orlando (April 8)
Florida started the season in full stride, never looking back, and it has kept a comfortable cushion which should secure them a top seat in the division. The remaining games won’t come easy, but the Everblades should manage to split its matches against Kalamazoo, and we see them winning at least one of those three games versus Toledo and Fort Wayne. They have had the number of the Solar Bears this year, so it’s reasonable to see them taking two of those three matches. This would give the Everblades ten more points for a total of 97.
One concern for Florida needs to be making sure it is in playoff shape when April rolls around. The team’s recent performances have been shaky, especially in the later periods. In the weekend series against Orlando, Florida twice jumped out to an early lead, only to see the opposing team catch up. Florida was fortunate to have won on Friday night, but the victory of the Solar Bears on Saturday demonstrated that the Everblades are vulnerable.
- Greenville Swamp Rabbits
Games Remaining: 8
2 games vs Indy (March 24 & 25)
1 game @ Stingrays (March 28)
3 games vs Atlanta (March 30 & 31 and April 2)
1 game vs Cyclones (March 7)
1 game @ Atlanta (March 8)
The Swamp Rabbits this season have been a force to be reckoned with. While the team had an OK first half of the season, the team has really poured it on during the second half. Greenville will face some of the easier opponents, playing host to the Indy Fuel and Atlanta Gladiators. However, the team does have games against the Stingrays and Cyclones, both of whom will pose serious threats. An ideal situation for the Swamp Rabbits would be to win both games against the Indy Fuel, defeat the Stingrays, split with Atlanta, and beat the Cyclones. This would give them 12 additional points for a total of 87.
3. Cincinnati Cyclones
Games Remaining: 7
1 game @ Fort Wayne (March 25)
1 game vs. Brampton (March 29)
1 game vs. Fort Wayne (March 31)
1 game vs. Toledo Walleye (April 1)
1 game @ Indy Fuel (April 2)
1 game @ Greenville (April 7)
1 game @ Stingrays (April 8)
The Cincinnati Cyclones have been the comeback underdog in this month of March madness. While the Solar Bears, Stingrays and Swamp Rabbits all battled for second place, the Cyclones silently put on an impressive push, which has propelled them past Orlando into third place. The team currently holds the best P10 record out of all the South Division teams in the playoff picture, going 8-2-0-0. Most recently, the Cyclones completed a three-game sweep of the Alaska Aces capped by a dramatic score by Eric Knodel during the final seconds that sent the final game into overtime.
However, the Cyclones will have prove to their self worth in these final seven games, as not only do their competitors have more games in hand on them, but their final opponents are no joke. The Fort Wayne Komets have remained consistently strong this season, while the red hot Toledo Walleye and Brampton Beast lead their divisions respectively. The team will have a brief break, as they take on the lowly Indy Fuel at the beginning of April, but then will get right back into the heat, as they finish up their season with two big games against the South Carolina teams. If the Cyclones can continue their onslaught of wins, or “winds”, then they could hold onto a playoff spot.
Here’s how we see the final games breaking down. Cincinnati wins one of the games against Fort Wayne, and it pummels the Indy Fuel. It should manage to squeeze one win in those match-ups against Brampton, Toledo, Greenville, and South Carolina. That would give the Cyclones a total of 80 points, which would have it just missing the playoffs. That closing road trip to the Swamp Rabbits and the Stingrays will determine Cincinnati’s fate.
4. Orlando Solar Bears
Games Remaining: 10
2 games @ Adirondack Thunder (March 21 & 28)
3 games @ Brampton Beast (March 23-24 and 26)
2 games @ Stingrays (March 31 & April 2)
2 games vs. Florida (April 5 & 7)
1 game @ Florida (April 8)
After missing the playoffs entirely last year, the Solar Bears look to return to the playoff dance. However, it has not been easy for them, as the Bears have had some difficulty building up a consecutive win streak, and slow starts have been the bane for the team. The Solar Bears have had some notable road trips in past years, and we expect a focused and intent squad to show up for the swing up north. We see them taking one game against Adirondack, two games against Brampton (a team which Orlando has consistently beaten), one against South Carolina, and one of three against Florida. That would give Orlando ten more points for a total of 81.
- South Carolina Stingrays
Games Remaining: 10
1 game @ Atlanta Gladiators (March 22)
2 games vs. Atlanta Gladiators (March 24-25)
1 game vs. Indy Fuel (March 26)
1 game vs. Greenville Swamp Rabbits (March 28)
2 games vs. Orlando Solar Bears (March 31-April 2)
1 game @ Atlanta Gladiators (April 5)
1 games vs. Atlanta Gladiators (April 7)
1 game vs. Cincinnati Cyclones (April 8)
While in fifth place, South Carolina is well positioned to get into the playoffs. Eight of its remaining games are at home, half of its schedule will be played against the Gladiators, and one game is against the lowly Indy Fuel. Atlanta, however, remains a capable squad which is showing some scoring firepower, helped in part by the recent acquisition of Alex Gacek who has nine points in six games. A reasonable outcome for South Carolina would be this scenario: Win three out of five games against Atlanta, beat Indy, split with Orlando, and win in the season finale against Cincinnati. We’re giving Greenville the nod in the game on March 28. That would give the Stingrays 12 more points for a total of 81.
Should these predictions hold, here is how the South Division would shape up:
- Florida Everblades: 97
- Greenville Swamp Rabbits: 87
- South Carolina Stingrays: 81
- Orlando Solar Bears: 81
- Cincinnati Cyclones: 80
All of this, of course, is prediction, and the ECHL always manages to cook up dramatic surprises this time of the year. Florida and Greenville have a little breathing room. But for the remaining three South Division teams on the bubble, there is no room for error. If South Carolina, Orlando, or Cincinnati stumbles at this point, they’re out of the playoff race. All of the teams know this, and we can expect some intense final matches as this nail-biting race approaches the finish line.