It’s a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals as the Newfoundland Growlers and Florida Everblades will meet once again with a trip to the Kelly Cup Finals on the line. In last year’s match-up, Florida was the higher seed, However, that was due to the Growlers having a higher winning percentage because all the teams didn’t play 72 games, and the standings were based on winning percentage. The Blades would go on to defeat the Growlers in five games, as the Blades went on to defeat the Toledo Walleye in five games to win the Kelly Cup. Growlers’ head coach Eric Wellwood mentioned that last year the team had a lot of rookies last year, and Newfoundland has a lot of the same guys from last year and thinks this year’s series could be a lot different. Newfoundland comes into the series in the top five in goals-for (2nd, 4.80 per) and goals-against (5th, 2.80 per) in the Kelly Cup Playoffs and are second in the league holding their opponents to 27 shots per game in the Kelly Cup Playoffs. It will be a series where two high-powered offenses meet two high-powered defenses, and it should turn out to be a great series.
Scoring From Different Places
Before Game Six, all of the Florida Everblade’s goals had come from their forwards, and heading into the Conference Finals, 38 of the 39 goals have come from their forwards, Cole Moberg is the only defencemen with a goal, and Stephan Leblanc leads all Florida defencemen with eight assists. For Newfoundland, Johnny Tychonick leads all defencemen in the Kelly Cup Playoffs with 12. However, he is only one of three Growler defencemen without a goal during the playoffs. Newfoundland, early in the Kelly Cup Playoffs, seemed to have most of their guys leading the league in scoring but heading to the Conference Finals, it’s Florida’s Tyler Irvine who’s tied for the team lead with seven goals, including a hat-trick in the series-clinching game over the Jacksonville Icemen, it also happened to be his birthday. Sean Josling is tied with Irvine at seven goals.
For the Growlers, they have three players with five goals; Pavel Gogolev, Issac Johnson, and Keenan Suthers, all with five goals apiece. Gogolev has proven to be a huge force for this team, and I expect them to lean on him for scoring as they have lost Zach O’Brien, who left Game 5 of the opening round with an injury and has yet to return to the lineup. O’Brien is the Growlers’ Captain and led the Growlers with 23 goals and 64 assists for 87 points in just 59 games, and his loss is huge, but Newfoundland has so much talent that they are surviving without him in the lineup. Joe Pendenza, who leads the Everblades with 12 points, missed the last two games of their series with the Icemen, and it’s unclear if he’ll be in the lineup for game 1.
If there’s any concern when it comes to special teams, it comes on the side of the Everblades. Florida is eight overall on the kill at 79.6%; however, at home, the team has only killed off 66.7% of penalties they have committed. Those numbers don’t fair well against a Growler’s team that is second over on the PP at 28.9% overall and an outstanding 41.2% on the road. Tychonick leads all players with seven assists on the man-advantage. If the Everblades even want to have a chance at winning this series, they are going to have to keep the penalties to a minimum and find a way to shut down that PP of the Growlers that will end up biting them.
There’s no question that goaltending favors the Growlers, as they have Luke Cavalin and Dryden McKay. When the Kelly Cup Playoffs began, there was no question about who the starter was supposed to be the starter for Newfoundland Growlers as Luke Cavallin finished 5th in goaltender of the year voting as he went 24-9-1 with a 2.56 GAA, .917 SV%, along with two shutouts. However, Cavallin would get pulled in the Growler’s first game of the Kelly Cup Playoffs after giving up five goals on 18 shots vs Adirondack Thunder and insert Dryden McKay. The Illinois native has had an unbelievable Kelly Cup Playoff run so far, going 8-1 with a 2.34 GAA and .914 save percentage in 10 games, nine of those being starts. I would expect Dryden McKay to get the nod for Game 1.
For the Everblades, Cam Johnson is looking to carry the Blades to back-to-back Kelly Cup Championships. During the regular season, Johnson went 26-20-4 with a 2.85 GAA, .907 SV%, and two shutouts. The 2022 Kelly Cup MVP has brought his game to another level during the Playoff this season, going 8-3-1 with a 2.11 GAA, 9.26 SV%, and three shutouts. He now has seven career Kelly Cup Playoff shutouts and is one away from tying Riley Gil, who holds the all-time postseason record with eight. However, Evan Fitzpatrick, who played in 17 games during the regular season going 11-3 with a 2.25 GAA and .921 SV%, was recalled to the Charlotte Checkers right before the Kelly Cup Playoffs began. Jaxson Castor is serving as Johnson’s back. Castor played in two games for the Everblades and took the shootout loss stopping 28 of 31 shots.
I believe the Newfoundland Growlers will get revenge on the Everblades for last season and look to capture their second straight Kelly Cup Championship, but it will be a fight as the series goes six games. Newfoundland had trouble with Adirondack in Game 1 after their long break between games, and I think between the six days off and the travel, the Growlers will drop Game 1 but find a way to bounce back after they regain their legs. Cam Johnson will do everything he can to keep the Everblades in the series. Still, it won’t be enough, as the Growlers’ offense will become too much for the Everblades, and for Florida, the clock will strike midnight on their Cinderella story of a season and their attempt at back-to-back Kelly Cup Championships.