Greenville – The Greenville Swamp Rabbits hosted the Jacksonville Icemen for the final time this year in game five of the first-round matchup. The Swamp Rabbits won Game Four, evening the series at two games a piece. Greenville would be without two of their top players, Max Martin and Tanner Eberle. Martin is tied for the lead in points on the Swamp Rabbits with four, while Eberle has scored two goals, along with being a very physical player. Ryan Bednard and Charles Williams would continue their familiar spots in the series, starting in goal. Nikita Pavlychev, Ben Freeman (2), and Carter Souch scored for the Swamp Rabbits. Luke Lynch, Craig Martin, Ara Nazarian, Matt Iacopelli, and Brandon Fortunato scored for the Icemen.
Coming into the game, Swamp Rabbits Coach Andrew Lord knew what he wanted to see, “Play fast, get the crowd into it. We were really excited from last night.” That is exactly what happened for the Swamp Rabbits, who were flying around, getting opportunities, and making big hits getting the crowd loud and excited. The speed would pay off when Alex Ierullo would skate around the back of the net, passing to Miles Gendron skating forward from the blue line, Gendron would see Nikita Pavlychev by himself to the left of the Icemen goalie. Pavlychev would finish the pass for the first goal of the night, putting the Swamp Rabbits up 1-0 just four minutes into the game.
Four minutes later, Ben Freeman, who scored the game-winning goal in Game Four. They came flying down the right side of the rink to Williams’s glove side. Throwing a shot at the netminder from the faceoff circle, with perfect placement from Freeman, the puck would find the back of the net and put the Swamp Rabbits up 2-0. After the second goal for Greenville, Jacksonville coach Nick Luukko had seen all he needed and pulled Charles Williams from the game, putting in Olof Lindbom, who was making his debut in the Kelly Cup playoffs. At the 13:04 mark, Lindbom would have his first real test when Luke Lynch would be sent to the penalty box for the first powerplay of the night for either team. Greenville wouldn’t get a chance to put any pressure on Lindbom, the kill unit of Jacksonville was able to close up any shooting lanes Greenville tried to open up. Luke Lynch would come out of the box in the middle of a Greenville line change. Christopher Brown had possession of the puck, passing from his defensive zone to Lynch, standing on the right side of the blue line. Lynch, all alone, would be able to beat Bednard going across the crease and putting a backhand above the glove of Bednard, scoring and cutting the lead in half to 2-1.
Coming out of the locker room 48 seconds into the second period Alex Ierullo and Ethan Somoza found themselves in a two-on-one opportunity, trying to add to the one-goal lead. They would be unsuccessful in this chance, but the Swamp Rabbits would get their second powerplay of the night just over a minute later. For most of the man advantage, the Icemen kill unit could keep the powerplay unit in check. Until the final second, the referee dramatically waved off what appeared to be a goal. From this point on, Jacksonville took over and would not look back. Twenty seconds from being down a man, Craig Martin would get the second breakaway chance for the Icemen, getting past Bednard and tying up the game. All the work Greenville had managed to capitalize on had vanished with two breakaway goals. A minute and a half later, Ara Nazarian would shoot a backhand off the chest of Bednard, flying up in the air and taking a great bounce for the Icemen, going behind Bednard and now leading 3-2. Fifty seconds later, when things didn’t seem like it could get worse for the Swamp Rabbits, it did. Matt Iacopelli, who has been a menace for the Swamp Rabbits for the previous two games, managed to score with an assist from Brandon Fortunato.
After the fourth goal, Coach Lord would pull Bednard for the second time in the series. Meaning both goalies that started the night were now sitting on the bench. Luke Richardson would make his second appearance in the series. The goal change seemed to get the Swamp Rabbits re-energized, playing fast once again and taking chances. With two minutes left in the period, the bleeding wouldn’t stop for the Swamp Rabbits. Brandon Fortunato would place the puck in the five-hole of Richardson. Adding to the Icemen lead, now up 5-2. The Icemen managed to put up four goals in the period. The most goals scored in a period by either team in this first-round matchup. The Swamp Rabbits would get some relief when Brendan Harris would be called for interference, allowing the Swamp Rabbits to finish the period up a man and starting the final period with a man advantage for 51 seconds.
The Swamp Rabbits had the first 51 seconds of the third period on the powerplay. Much like the first chances, the Icemen kill unit was too strong and didn’t allow the Swamp Rabbits any opportunity. Once Jacksonville regained strength, they returned to the Game Three strategy of keep-away and dumping the puck into the offensive zone. The plan would work for the first nine minutes of the period until Ben Freeman would have the puck toward the left of Lindbom. Freeman would place a perfect snipe over the glove of Lindbom, cutting the lead to two. Two minutes later, Jacob Friend would be called for a delay of game when the puck went over the glass. Halfway through the powerplay, Carter Souch would grab a loose puck in front of the Icemen net, wrap around the goal, and slide it just past the outstretched leg blocker of Lindbom. Suddenly, the Swamp Rabbits were down one with just over seven minutes to go.
Six minutes would come and go, and with just over a minute to go in the game, Coach Lord would pull Richardson putting the sixth man on the ice, hoping for one goal to tie up the game. Unlike Game Three, when Greenville scored with a sixth man, the Jacksonville defense ensured they would not get the chance again. The Icemen completely shut down the Swamp Rabbit offense, winning the game 5-4
Greenville and Jacksonville will now return to Jacksonville to potentially wrap the series. Game six will take place on Tuesday, May 2. Jacksonville is going home with a 3-2 series lead.