ECHL Playoff Series Recap:  Florida Everblades vs. Orlando Solar Bears

Photo by: Christina Slemp for Inside the Rink

The Florida Everblades defeated the Orlando Solar Bears on Saturday night to win their second-round matchup four games to one. The series win gives the Everblades the record in the ECHL for consecutive playoff series wins with ten. Head coach Brad Ralph also extended his league lead in playoff games coached and playoff wins with 130 and 79. The 4-1 series record connotes a dominant performance by the Everblades over the Solar Bears, but to anyone who watched the five games, the series was anything but lopsided.

Game one was on May 3rd at Hertz Arena in Estero, Fla. The Everblades played with the energy and style that saw them defeat the Jacksonville Icemen in three straight games to win round one. The Everblades opened the scoring in the game and the series after 16 seconds in the first period on a goal by Cole Moberg (1). The Everblades would add four more goals, including a powerplay goal, their first of the playoffs to defeat the Solar Bears 5-1. Solar Bears Luke Boka (3) would score the team’s lone goal at 11:30 of the first period. Cam Johnson won his fifth game in net with a 0.958 save percentage, while Evan Fitzpatrick had a rough outing with a 0.853 save percentage. Solar Bears captain Tyler Bird would receive a one-game suspension for his major penalty and game misconduct for cross-checking in the third period.

Photo by: Christina Slemp for Inside the Rink

Solar Bears head coach Matt Carkner added Kevin Lombardi and Mitchell Hoelscher, the team’s leader in goals during the regular season, for Tanner Schachle and suspended Tyler Bird. The lineup changes, however, didn’t change the result of the game, as the Everblades won game two, 6-3. The Everblades scored first for the second time in the series when Todd Skirving scored his first goal in the playoffs and with the Everblades at 6:51 of the first. The Everblades would score two more before Jesse Jacques (3) got the Solar Bears on the board. Each team would go 2-7 on the powerplay. Cam Johnson posted a 0.906 save percentage in the win, and Evan Fitzpatrick recorded his lowest save percentage in the series with 0.739. Everblades forward Oliver Chau scored his first goal of the playoffs after leading the team in points in the regular season. The game was penalty-filled, with the Everblades assessed 45 minutes in penalties, including one major penalty and three game misconducts. The Solar Bears amassed 34 minutes with two game misconducts.

Photo by: Christina Slemp for Inside the Rink

Game three saw the series shift to the Kia Center in Orlando, Fla., where 8,185 bipartisan fans filled the stands on Tuesday. The series would take a drastic turn in favor of the Solar Bears as Coach Carkner re-inserted Tyler Bird into the lineup after his suspension, placing Kelly Bent on reserve. He also tweaked his team’s defensive strategy, which gave Fitzpatrick more support while allowing his offense to capitalize on their chances. Coach Ralph placed Cam Darcy on reserve and inserted Kyle Neuber into the lineup. Neuber, the team leader in penalty minutes with 145, gave the Everblades another physical presence on the ice, given the number of penalties both teams took in the first two games. Everblades Zach Uens (1) scored for the Everblades at 8:56 of the first period, the third straight opening goal for the Everblades in the series. Mitchell Hoelscher would add his second goal of the playoffs and the series at 17:16 of the second period to get the Solar Bears on the scoreboard. Darik Angeli (2) scored at 4:30 in the third to tie the game at two. Matt Wedman (2) would score just over halfway through the third to put the Everblades back in front, and Oliver Chau (2) scored into an empty net to seal the 4-2 victory for the Everblades and a 3-0 lead in the series. There were only two penalties in this game, markedly different from game two, both in the second period and against the Everblades. Johnson won his third in the series saving 0.943, and Fitzpatrick lost with 0.949, which was a much better performance for him. This game reflected a tighter checking game for the Solar Bears with better play along the boards. Their transition game resulted in high-scoring opportunities missing in the first two games. 

Photo by: Patrick Onufer for Patrick O’Photos

7,956 fans came out on Thursday night hoping to see the Solar Bears extend the series. Game four was a do-or-die for the Solar Bears, but Coach Carkner liked what he saw from his team in game three and kept his lineup the same. The game’s first goal came off a poor decision by Everblades defenseman Zach Uens. Uens tried to clear the puck from the front of the net but accidentally banked the puck off fellow defenseman Will Rielly and into the net. Marc-Andre Gaudet (1) received credit for the goal at 7:37 as he was the last Solar Bear to touch the puck. This was the first game where Orlando scored the first goal and their first lead of the series. Darik Angeli (3) would build on the lead at 10:37, and the Solar Bears went to the locker room up 2-0. Matt Wedman (3) got the Everblades on the scoreboard 26 seconds into the second period, but the Solar Bears would extend their lead back to two before the period ended. The Everblades pulled back to within one on Logan Lambdin’s (3) goal at 2:19. They pulled Johnson at 18:18, but Darik Angeli (4) scored his second goal of the game into the empty net. The 4-2 win gave new life to the Solar Bears and energy to both the players and the fans. Fitzpatrick played his best game of the series with a 0.949 save percentage, and Johnson recorded his worst outing with a 0.909. 

Photo by: Christina Slemp for Inside the Rink

Game five was on Saturday night, rescheduled from Sunday because of a conflict with the Orlando Magic. 9,049 fans were electric from Thursday night’s win by the home team. Coach Carkner went with his same lineup while Coach Ralph re-inserted Cam Darcy and added Adrien Bisson into the lineup; he placed Kyle Neuber and Will Reilly on reserve. The previous two games were hard-fought, close games, with the winning team scoring an empty netter to seal the victories. However, Saturday night’s game would be the series’ closest. Florida came out in the first period with more energy than they had in the previous two, outshooting the Solar Bears 10-4. Each team had a powerplay opportunity during the period, but neither team could score, and the teams headed to the locker room tied 0-0. The tempo would pick up for both teams in the second period. Cole Moberg connected on a long stretch pass to Bobo Carpenter (4), the team’s goal-scoring leader in the regular season, and he split the Solar Bears defenders for a one-on-one with Fitzpatrick. He decked to the forehand, pulled the puck to his backhand, and lifted the puck over Fitzpatrick’s outstretched right leg for the game’s first goal at 11:46. Each team would record eleven shots on goal in the period. The Everblades took two penalties and the Solar Bears one, with each team killing off the man advantages. The third period saw the Everblades resort to a defensive strategy, which slowed the game down for both teams; the Solar Bears outshot the Everblades 8-2. Both teams missed open nets during the period, and the Solar Bears pulled Fitzpatrick at 18:58 for a sixth attacker. Mitchell Hoelscher (3) would show the crowd why he was a scoring leader when he deflected a shot from Marc-Andre Gaudet with 51 seconds left. With the game tied, Matt Wedman put the Everblades down a man at 19:19 when he took a penalty for high-sticking. The Solar Bears could not score with the abbreviated powerplay, and the game went to overtime. Bobo Carpenter (5) would score his second in the game and the game-winner and series clencher at 13:56 in the first overtime. Fitzpatrick held his head down as the realization that the Solar Bears season had just ended. Johnson played his best game in the series with a 0.964 save percentage, and Fitzpatrick managed a 0.933. Both teams left their best play, indicative of their regular season matchups, for the last game, and although the Solar Bears fans were disappointed, everyone enjoyed a highly entertaining game.

Photo by: Christina Slemp for Inside the Rink

Darik Angeli and Mitchell Hoelscher led the Solar Bears in goals in the series with three; Angeli also led the team in points with six. Orlando had seven skaters with goals in the series, and Aaron Luchuk and Brayden Low, the team leaders in points with 49, only recorded one point between them. Fitzpatrick had a difficult series, losing four of five with a 0.876 save percentage, down from his 0.935 against the round-one Greenville Swamp Rabbits. He also faced 145 shots in the series, which reflected a better effort in team defense than the first-round series with the Swamp Rabbits, who fired 246 shots. The Solar Bears’ team defense on display at home during this season, coupled with their fast transition game that gets pucks on net for rebounds, should transition into more wins next season.

Photo by: Christina Slemp for Inside the Rink

Bobo Carpenter and Josh Ho-Sang led the Everblades in points with six. Seven players on the Everblades tied with two goals, and there were twelve goal scorers out of the 19 that played. Cam Johnson had another solid series with a 0.934 save percentage. Florida moves into the third round against the winner of the Adirondack Thunder and Norfolk Admirals. Adirondack leads that series 3-2 and hosts their next game on Tuesday; they will host game seven on Wednesday if necessary. 

James Slemp

I write for and photograph the Florida Everblades for ITR. I am a retiree that has turned my hobby of photography into a business. I currently live in Sarasota, Florida with my wife, Christy, but I'm originally from California. My previous career has taken me all over the US and the world and I definitely enjoy traveling. I've played hockey for over 30 years, learning as an adult, and love the game.

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