ECHL Playoffs: Florida Everblades vs. Orlando Solar Bears Game 1 | 05/03/2024

Photo by: Christina Slemp for Inside the Rink

Estero, Fla.- The Florida Everblades hosted the Orlando Solar Bears for game one of the second round of the playoffs at Hertz Arena on Friday night. Both teams had extended series in round one, with the Solar Bears beating the division-winning Greenville Swamp Rabbits four to two and the Everblades needing seven games and three consecutive wins to beat the Jacksonville Icemen. The Everblades clinched a playoff berth with one game remaining in the regular season, and the Solar Bears locked up fourth place in their last game. The series is projected to go six games as the teams are no strangers to each other, having met 13 times in the regular season, with the Everblades winning seven.

Everblades coach Brad Ralph started Cam Johnson in net for his eighth consecutive start; Johnson recorded a 0.937 save percentage in round one. Solar Bears coach Matt Carkner started Evan Fitzpatrick for his seventh consecutive game, he posted a 0.935. The Solar Bears scored 19 goals while giving up 16 against in round one, and the Everblades scored 16 and gave up 16. Special teams have been an issue for both teams, with the Everblades going scoreless on 14 powerplays and killing 76% of the penalty kills against the Icemen. The Solar Bears had more success against the Swamp Rabbits, scoring three goals on 17 attempts and killing off 75% of the penalties. Everblades play-by-play commentator Jake Maurice identified three keys to success for the Everblades.

·Stick to the gameplan.

·Focus on the special teams.

·Feed off the home crowd.

Head coach Brad Ralph commented on the upcoming series against the Solar Bears.

This should be an equal series. They’re bigger and more physical than Jacksonville, and we’ve struggled against them for that reason. They play a dynamic game in how they stretch the game and transition off turnovers, so we must adjust. They’re a good team, and this should be a fun series.

4,992 fans welcomed both teams onto the ice at Hertz Arena, and many Solar Bears fans made the short drive from Orlando. The Everblades needed just 16 seconds to score the game’s first goal; Cole Moberg (3) scored on a shot from the point, with Oliver Chau and Jesse Lansdell assisting on the play. Will Reilly (2) extended the lead at 5:41 on another shot from the point, and Mark Senden and Cam Darcy assisted on the goal. Solar Bears Kurt Gosselin received a two-minute penalty for cross-checking at 8:31, but the Everblades couldn’t capitalize, extending their scoreless streak on the powerplay to 15. The Solar Bears cut into the lead when Luke Boka (3) scored at 11:30 on assists from Darik Angeli and Jaydon Dureau. Will Reilly spent two minutes in the sin bin for tripping at 14:37. The Solar Bears couldn’t get another puck past Cam Johnson with the man advantage, and the period ended 2-1 for the Everblades.

The second period saw the Everblades score two more goals to extend their lead to 4-1. Cam Darcy (2) scored at 4:21 from a pass by Bobo Carpenter, and Mark Senden (2) scored at 7:04 from Zach Berzolla and Jesse Lansdell, his second of the game. Orlando had Tanner Schachle, two minutes for boarding, and a two-minute bench minor for too many men called against them. Will Reilly received a high-sticking penalty as the period expired for the Everblades, giving the Solar Bears a full two-minute powerplay starting in the third. 

The Solar Bears managed three quality shots on the powerplay to start the third period. Sean Josling (4) scored the game’s last goal at 3:28; the goal was the first powerplay goal of the playoffs for the Everblades. Will Reilly and Josh Ho-Sang recorded assists on the play. The rest of the period saw heavier physical play and tempers flaring on both sides. The Solar Bears received four additional penalties in the third. Kelly Bent was called for roughing at 3:36. Tyler Bird received a five-minute major and a ten-minute game misconduct for slashing, and Jimmy Mazza received a ten-minute misconduct for continuing the altercation at the 18:55 mark. Cole Moberg received the only penalty of the period for the Everblades on a tripping call at 10:58. The game ended with the Everblades taking game one 5-1.

Cam Johnson took the win with a 0.958 save percentage, and Evan Fitzpatrick the loss with a 0.853 save percentage. Special teams were keys to both teams going into the series. The Everblades managed to score their first powerplay goal, giving them one goal on 20 opportunities for a 5% success rate, and they killed off six penalty kills, moving their success rate to 80.6%. The Solar Bears couldn’t capitalize on the three powerplay chances they had moving their success rate to 15%, and their five penalty kills on six chances resulted in a 76.9% rate. All three stars of the game came from the Everblades. Will Reilly, Cam Darcy, and Mark Senden each recorded a goal and an assist with Reilly’s goal being the game winner.

I expect game two to be more even as the Solar Bears tweak their game plan to combat the Everblades’ zone time and control of the neutral zone, while the Everblades will look to maintain their effort in game one. Game two is on Saturday at Hertz Arena; puck drop is at 7 p.m. Game three is on Tuesday as the series switches to Orlando for three games.

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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