As the playoff race heats up, the Orlando Solar Bears made their presence known by beating both of their rivals that they faced during the weekend. It started on Thursday, March 2nd, with the Bears hosting the Adirondack Thunder, who were 19-23-7-1 entering their Florida road trip. There was not a lot of action throughout the game as the two teams were facing off for the first time against one another.
The Thunder started the party as Ryan Smith skated into the slot and got a shot that trickled through Garret Sparks’s five-hole. The Solar Bears attempted to respond as they got some high-quality shots that Jake Theut could keep out of the net. The Bears’ best chance came with 12:15 to go in the opening stanza as Grant Mismash had a wide-open net that missed wide left. With 6:38 to go, the Thunder got a chance on the power-play and converted as Sebastian Vidmar got his seventh of the season as he got a one-timer off from the right circle.
The rest of the first period into the second was a feeling-out process for the teams, as not a lot of action happened in the middle frame. Adirondack’s best chance to extend their lead to three came in the opening minutes as Vidmar had a breakaway that he missed high off the glass. With just under 15 minutes to play in the second, the Solar Bears got the massive chance as they had a wide-open cage to shoot at, and everyone except the players and officials thought the puck was in as the goal light came on. There was no review, as the call on the ice was the confirmed-no goal.
As the middle stanza came close to ending, the physicality of the game started to pick up. Entering the final period, the Solar Bears still had a chance to get back into it as they out-shot the Thunder 23-8 in the last 40 minutes. Just over seven minutes into the period, it was Branden Makara skating in, trying to receive a centering pass, ultimately failing and resulting in Makara sliding into the net. The officials called a goaltender interference penalty on the play, which Makara agreed to as it looked like he avoided contact with Theut.
The Thunder would then score on the ensuing power-play as Colin Long’s shot got past Sparks from the slot for his eighth goal of the season. The physical battle recked up just past the midway mark of the period with just under seven minutes to play as the Bears got a great scoring chance as they wrapped the puck around the net, getting it past Theut, resulting in everyone thinking it was a goal as the light came on and the goal horn sounded, as well as a short celebration until the refs said no goal. The officials stopped play about 30 seconds later, and once again, no goal was called, leaving the fans and the team itself wondering if anything would go their way.
Jake Theut made 32 saves in a perfect game shutout earning his 11th win of the year and the second shutout of the season.
One night later, in the third, it was the Bears again playing against the Florida Everblades in the last regular season matchup between the squads. Both the teams had some early chances on the power play, ho. However, the first Florida chance was negated with nine seconds to go as Cole Moberg took an interference minor. With just seconds left on the power play time, it was Max Balinson getting his 4th of the year, making it 1-0 Bears with 16:00 left. 2:01 later, as the crowd finished celebrating the game’s first goal, it was longtime Everblade; Ben Masella shot the puck past goaltender Jimmy Poreda, off the post, and in.
With 11:44 left in the first, Tristan Langan got a breakaway saved by Blades’ netminder Cam Johnson. Johnson made another huge save about 90 seconds later, as it was a tic-tac-toe play. Other than the goals, Florida was able to control most of the first period. As the period ended, Ross Olsson and Kyle Neuber shouted at each other as the teams left the ice after the first.
Early on, Johnson had a big save by sprawling out to get the glove on the puck. The Solar Bears got a huge chance to take the lead when Florida was called for a bench minor for having too many men on the ice. The Bears took advantage of it at the 4:36 mark when it was Oound the puck as it was loose in the crease, giving them a 2-1 lead. That lead lasted until the next shift, as 21 seconds later, Brad Morrison received a pass from Blake Winiecki and deked Poreda out and lifted the puck over his pads into the net. With 5:54 to play in the middle frame, the teams took a tv timeout and a,s Poreda skated by the Florida bench; Neuber had some words for him; the officials saw that and gave him a 10 min misconduct, the crowd followed by waving goodbye to him.
With 2:25 left in the second, Balinson fed the puck to the newly acquired player: Paul Boutoussov, who got a breakaway and scored his first goal for the Solar Bears. Entering the third in a period with a slight lead meant a little more physical activity in this in-state battle. That was the case as the hitting was only there for the first few minutes as the Solar Bears sped away with the game when it was all-star Michael Brodzinski who got a wrist shot from the circle making it 4-2. The Solar Bears know that no lead is safe in the game of hockey, as just 35 seconds later, it was Boutoussov jumping on the rebound from Luke Boka to give the Bears a 5-2 lead with 13:44 left in the game.
The Everblades pulled one back when Moberg got the pass from Winiecki in the slot, sniping it past Poreda with 3:59 left. Mathieu Foget had a chance to give the Bears their sixth goal of the game when he had a breakaway that he missed high off the glass. Eventually, with 56.2 left, Langan fed Chris Harpur the puck as he skated in alone to put it into the open net, sealing a 6-3 win for Orlando.
Orlando then went to Charleston, SC, to faceoff against the Stingrays, who had scored 16 goals in their last two games entering this one. It was a bad start to the game for Jack LaFontaine and Clay Stevenson, as the teams combined for three goals in the first 85 seconds. For the Solar Bears. Balinson got a shot from the left circle 46 seconds in, and 12 seconds later, Bennett Macarthur deflected a Langan shot from the blue line. Already down by a pair, the Stingrays needed a response, and 27 seconds later, they got what they needed as it was Alexandre Fortin from the top of the circle getting it past LaFontaine. The Stingrays had a golden opportunity to even up the game as they got a power play 24 seconds later, ultimately failing and giving Orlando some momentum.
The goals kept coming for the Bears as Langan got a wrist shot from the faceoff dot with 13:28 left to make it 3-1 in favor of Orlando. Despite an excellent forecheck by South Carolina, they couldn’t get any more decent chances in the period as the goaltenders finally settled in.
Something was said in the Orlando locker room with 18:23 left; it was Foget who passed it to Langan in the slot, who hit the post. Orlando would get another goal a minute later was Mismash came into the zone and made no mistake getting it past Stevenson, who was pulled by SC head coach Brendan Kotyk. Stevenson stopped 8/12 shots he faced. The game started to get physical as a few small brawls broke out, giving Orlando a 5-on-3 power play, which Orlando could not convert. Orlando then got another power play Justin Florek took a shot on LaFontaine after the whistle as he went to the box for slashing. Orlando put this game out of reach when Olsson deflected a Macarthur shot, giving Orlando a 5-1 lead with 10:25 left.
A side note of that fifth goal for Orlando: It was Olsson’s 12th PPG of the season, setting a new Solar Bears single-season record for most goals on the power play.
The Stingrays were able to pull one back as it was Bear Hughes finding Josh Wilkins at the front of the goalmouth for the Stingrays. Orlando scored on the next shift as it was Langan getting the puck through traffic that went off a Stingrays skater into the net past goaltender Tyler Wall. Orlando almost got another goal close to the end of the middle frame as Mismash hit the post with 1:40 left.
The last period was a calm one. However, Orlando wanted more goals which they got as Fortin went to the box for tripping at the 10:49 mark of the frame. Orlando converted on that power play as it was Luke McInnis getting a shot from the blue line giving him his first goal of the season. Tyler Bird had a chance to make it 8-2, but he missed to the left on a breakaway with 6:01 left. Eventually, the game came to an end with the Solar Bears winning 7-2
The Solar Bears find themselves in the middle of a heated and tight playoff race as they are sitting in fifth at 28-23-6-1, good for 63 points, only nine points behind the Jacksonville Icemen. The Bears host Atlanta on Friday and Jacksonville on Sunday.