ECHL Playoffs: Florida Everblades vs. Orlando Solar Bears Game 2 | 05/04/2024

Photo by: Christina Slemp for Inside the Rink

Estero, Fla.- The Orlando Solar Bears looked to bounce back from a lackluster performance against the Florida Everblades on Friday night. The home-team Everblades won game one, beating Evan Fitzpatrick five times to win 5-1. The Solar Bears seemed sluggish and a step behind all night. At the same time, the Everblades carried the energy and momentum they gained from winning three straight against the Jacksonville Icemen, winning their first-round series 4-3. A crowd of 5,667 fans filled Hertz Arena on Saturday to see which team would come out on top.

Everblades coach Brad Ralph had the same players in the lineup for the fifth consecutive game, while coach Matt Carkner inserted forwards Kevin Lombardi and Mitchell Hoelscher. Hoelscher tied for the team lead in regular season goals with 23. Captain Tyler Bird was out of the lineup due to a one-game suspension for his cross-check against Jesse Lansdell in game one. Forward Tanner Schachle was also out of the lineup for Saturday’s game. Cam Johnson made his ninth consecutive start for the Everblades, and Evan Fitzpatrick his eighth. Everblades play-by-play commentator Jake Maurice identified three keys to success for the Everblades.

·Get another fast start.

·Keep the powerplay goals coming.

·Win the battles on the board.

Head coach Brad Ralph commented on the game one win and the upcoming game two against the Solar Bears.

We had a great start last night, scoring that goal on the first shift. It gave us a boost of confidence and momentum. Getting two goals from our defense was huge for the team; we had that same success in the first round. We can tighten up some areas defensively, and our forwards need to get pucks deep. Our fourth game in five nights is tonight, so this will challenge the team. I expect a better effort from Orlando tonight. They like to play a physical game, and I expect to see that same style tonight, so we’ll have to capitalize on our chances.

Photo by: Christina Slemp for Inside the Rink

The first period started slowly as both teams settled into a more defensive strategy, limiting open ice in the neutral zone. Cam Johnson received a rare two-minute penalty on a goaltender for slashing at 3:54. The Solar Bears couldn’t get a shot on goal with the man advantage. Todd Skirving (1) scored his first goal as an Everblades at 6:51 when he spun and fired a wrist shot, beating Fitzpatrick on the short side. Logan Lambdin and Mark Senden assisted on the goal. The Everblades’ defense continued to provide offense when Cole Moberg (4) scored at 8:51 off a feed from Josh Ho-Sang and Matt Wedman. Moberg is second on the team with four goals, one behind Sean Josling. Solar Bears forward Darik Angeli received a two-minute slashing penalty at 12:50, and the Everblades scored their second powerplay goal of the playoffs. Sean Josling scored his team-leading fifth goal from Bobo Carpenter and Will Reilly. Todd Skirving was sent to the box at 18:46 for goaltender interference, another late-period penalty for the Everblades. The Solar Bears managed four shots on goal for the period, two being high quality, and Evan Fitzpatrick stopped nine of 12 shots from the home team.

Photo by: Christina Slemp for Inside the Rink

Skirving’s penalty carried over into the second period, but the Solar Bears could only get one shot on goal during the two-minute penalty. Kevin Lombardi took a tripping penalty at 7:08, sending the Everblades back on the powerplay. Cole Moberg was called for elbowing at 9:48, giving the Solar Bears their third powerplay of the night. The Solar Bears capitalized on the man advantage, getting on the scoreboard with Jesse Jacques’ (3) powerplay goal at 9:50. Brayden Low and Ben Carroll assisted. The Everblades regained their three-goal lead a minute later when captain Joe Pendenza (3) scored. Sean Josling and Logan Lambdin got helpers on the play. Oliver Chau extended the Everblades’ lead to four with his first goal of the playoffs at 13:14. Josh Ho-Sang and Matt Wedman recorded their second assists on the night. Kevin Lombardi cut into the lead when he scored his first goal of the playoffs 15 seconds later. Ben Carroll recorded his second assist of the night, and Luke Boka got on the scoresheet with his. The Solar Bears returned to the penalty kill at 16:43 when Brayden Low was called for holding. The Everblades couldn’t score with the man advantage, and the period ended 5-2. The Solar Bears doubled up the Everblades in shots 10-5, bringing the two-period total to 17-14 Everblades.

Photo by: Christina Slemp for Inside the Rink

The third period saw eleven penalties, including five ten-minute misconducts and one five-minute major. The Solar Bears were the first to be sent to the sin bin when Mitchell Hoelscher was called for cross-checking at 2:36. Zachary Massicotte joined him less than a minute later for a four-minute high-sticking double minor, giving the Everblades a five-on-three advantage for just over a minute. The Everblades couldn’t beat Fitzpatrick with the two-man advantage, but with Hoelscher back on the ice, Joe Pendenza (3) scored his second goal of the game and the team’s second powerplay tally at 6:12. Cole Moberg and Logan Lambdin assisted on the sixth goal. Jeremie Biakabutuka put the Solar Bears back on the penalty kill at 6:27 for high-sticking. Logan Lambdin received a two-minute elbowing penalty at 10:40, and Zach Berzolla gave the Solar Bears a two-man advantage at 11:54 for high-sticking. The game erupted into chaos at 14:42 when Everblades forward Jesse Lansdell received a five-minute major and ten-minute misconduct for charging. The ensuing fracas saw the Everblades Cole Moberg and Riese Zmolek and the Solar Bears Jimmy Mazza and Kurt Gosselin each received ten-minute misconducts for continuing the altercation. All five players were escorted off the ice. The Solar Bears scored their second powerplay goal when Mitchell Hoelscher (1) beat Cam Johnson; Spencer Kersten assisted. The Solar Bears outshot the Everblades 18-6 in the third and 32-23 for the game, but the Everblades took the more important victory 6-3 and a 2-0 lead in the series.

Photo by: Christina Slemp for Inside the Rink

Both teams were extremely sloppy in taking penalties. They each were shorthanded seven times, and they each scored twice on the powerplay. The Solar Bears have 13 penalties in the series, and the Everblades have 10. The team that can stay out of the box will have a greater chance of success in the series. Everblades forward Sean Josling had a goal and assist in the game, extending his team lead in goals and points to five and nine, respectively. Solar Bears rookie Spencer Kersten recorded an assist in the game, maintaining his team lead in goals and points with 6-3-9. Cam Johnson got his sixth win of the postseason and fifth consecutive win with a 0.908 save percentage. Evan Fitzpatrick had another rough start, recording a poor 0.739 save percentage, a stat well below his season and playoff average. Fitzpatrick has made 46 saves while giving up eleven goals in the series for a 0.807 save percentage. Coach Matt Carkner will need to have Fitzpatrick play lights out in game three or start rookie Francis Boisvert. After completing his season with Robert Morris University, Boisvert joined Orlando on March 16, 2024, and has yet to play in net for the Solar Bears.

Game three will be huge for both teams as the Solar Bears look to get out of their slump and prevent themselves from going down 3-0 in the series, and the Everblades look to take a commanding 3-0 lead. Game three is on Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. at Kia Center in Orlando, Fla. Games four and five will be in Orlando on Thursday night and Saturday night. 

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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