Estero, Florida—The Swamp Rabbits hit the road for a two-game road trip in Florida against the Everblades. With the matchup, the two division rivals would see their last meeting of this season, and both teams had the thought of winning on their mind because of it. Previously, Greenville went head-on against the Jacksonville Icemen at home, winning one of two consecutive games. Meanwhile, Florida won three games in a row – two in Savannah and one at home against Atlanta. Florida was 20-11-5, while Greenville was 29-11-1. The Everblades were hosting their NHL affiliation night with Florida Panther’s specialty jerseys.
The first period would start slow for both teams; they would trade between zones to try and pressure the respective d-units but ultimately just play tug of war before 4:20. At that mark, Greenville would draw a penalty and go on the powerplay. The Rabbits’ would buckle down on the powerplay with their 23% success percentage, posting five shots on Cam Johnson. Johnson, however, would make key saves to keep the score tied at 0. The Everblades have an 84% kill rate on the PK, so it’s no wonder why the units and Johnson were on par with defending their zone. With the absence of Nikita Pavlychev and Max Martin, the Rabbits’ had to adapt to new PP units, but that’s not to say they couldn’t produce. After the powerplay, both teams went back to trading back-and-forth shots on the respective opponent goaltenders. That dynamic would continue for much of the remainder of the first twenty minutes. Then at 16:08, the Rabbits’ would rush down to Florida’s zone with Nick Prkusic shooting on Johnson and creating a close-to-crease situation with a loose puck. A Swamp Rabbit near the crease would give the puck to Joe Leahy on the right-wing end; Johnson, still recovering from the close-to-crease situation, would be slightly vulnerable. Leahy would then feed a pass to an uncontested Jake Smith for him to hard wrist a shot and score. Jake Smith, standing in the right place at the right time with a good assist from Leahy, would open up scoring for his team. And after twenty minutes, the Rabbits’ would carry into the second stretch with a one-nothing lead.
Things would change for the Everblades entering into the second period, as they would tie things up just 44 seconds into the period from a goal by Logan Lambdin. And then, at 2:00, the Everblades would take away the puck from their zone, rush into Greenville’s zone, and give an upper hand for Zach Tsekos to make a pass to captain Joe Pendenza for him to shoot on the left end and score. Newly named captain of the Everblades would give his team a one-goal lead after over a minute of tying things up. The goal by the captain gave his team the motivation they needed to maintain that one-goal lead. Greenville would post ten shots on Johnson but be denied.
The final twenty minutes went well for Greenville, as a sense of urgency fueled them to produce high-quality shots on the reigning back-to-back Kelly Cup Champion, Cam Johnson. The Rabbits’ offensive lines had strong momentum over the Everblades. Until 6:15, they would go on the powerplay and get train wrecked by the Everblades PK units. However, the Rabbits’ would get another chance to score, as Anthony Beauchamp was awarded a penalty shot at 8:58. Beauchamp did not waste this opportunity as he motored down to Johnson’s zone with confidence and persistence and hence scored the tying goal for his team. Both teams were tied with more than ten minutes left in regulation. However, the Everblades would get revenge at 9:34, as captain Joe Pendenza would net his second of the night and completely sweep away the Rabbits’ recent tie effort. With the quick and rather easy tie-breaking goal from their new captain, the Everblades had a boost of motivation to score again, as they would press the Rabbits for several minutes – posting seven shots on Bednard. Then, at 16:40, the Rabbits’ would get a power play. Though, nothing came from it; not even a shot on goal. And because of that, the Rabbits’ had one last opportunity to score, so they pulled Ryan Bednard for the extra attacker at 18:02. Greenville managed to keep the puck away from their empty net and managed to post three shots on Johnson. For what seemed like it was over, it was not. With just three seconds left of the game, Brannon McManus would end up scoring the tying goal and usher in an unexpected overtime.
In a desperate situation to win, the Everblades certainly were pumped to score the game-winning shot, as they posted five shots on Bednard. However, Bednard and his three defenders would deny them that win. The Rabbits’ did their absolute best to preserve the chance of winning, but the Everblades didn’t give them too many opportunities to score. Because neither team could score after seven minutes, the game would go into a shootout.
Carter Souch would be the first to shoot and get denied by Cam Johnson. Then it was Sean Josling’s turn, but he would also get denied by Ryan Bednard. Next was Rabbits’ Jake Smith: he would, too, get denied by Johnson. The next shooter for Florida was Logan Lambdin: he would get blocked by Bednard. Yes, it was a battle of the netminders that night. For the Swamp Rabbits’ third shooter, it was tie producer Brannon McManus: he would live up to his last-second tie goal and score. With the last opportunity to keep things going, Bobo Carpenter was up next: but Ryan Bednard blocked it, and so the Swamp Rabbits’ would win in a shootout.
Game Two—January 27, 2024
Unlike the previous game, this game would be a different tale to tell, with a low amount of scoring and action to be told. Regardless, here’s what went down.
The first period would start great for the Rabbits, as Jordan Timmons would net his second of the season just 49 seconds into the period. Timmons’s goal would not carry on the momentum for his team, however, as the opposition team of Florida would hold over the energy to post 12 shots on Richardson over four on Johnson for the Rabbits’. Despite the shots on goal differential and being awarded two power play opportunities during the period, the Everblades would get a boulder from the Rabbits’ defense and Luke Richardson. Richardson, playing his ninth game of the season, would make incredible, brilliant saves during this period and throughout the game, as he has a 0.922 save percentage. After the first twenty minutes of action, the Rabbits’ would have a one-goal lead heading into the second stretch.
The second stretch was filled with plenty of action from both teams, but not in terms of scoring. Despite Johnson tending in his second consecutive game against the Rabbits’, the netminder would stop all ten shots from the guys in white and orange; while Richardson would do the same and stop all 13 shots from the Everblades. There was one moment where Rabbits’ Joe Leahy took a penalty for interfering with a rush by an Everblade, all to not only shadow the Everblades’ PP but also swing pressure into Florida’s zone with effective PK execution. After forty, the score would remain the same.
Heading into the final stretch, the Everblades had an abbreviated two-minute power play. However, as executed before, Greenville’s PK units would shine over the team in green and deny them any chance of tying. Even though they dominated on the PK, the Rabbits’ were still outshot and mainly dominated by the Everblades throughout the third. Baffling, Greenville only posted four shots on Cam Johnson, while Florida put up twelve on Richardson. At 6:30, the Rabbits’ got a power play opportunity and the only power play to any team for this period. Florida’s strong PK of 84% swiftly orchestrated a good kill and only allowed one shot from the Swamp Rabbits. Minutes later, of endless shots and sets of plays from the Florida team, they would end up pulling Johnson for the extra attacker at 18:33 to put up only one shot on Richardson. Florida’s effort was on point compared to Greenville’s offense; however, it did not help them capitalize a tie, as Richardson was pretty much a brick wall and would, as a result, get a shutout.
Because of the win, the Swamp Rabbits would become the first team in the league to reach 30 wins this season and to 30 wins in the shortest games played in Greenville hockey history. They will carry that record and those two wins to home, as next week – beginning February 2nd, 2024 – they’ll play three straight games against three different teams on home ice.