Florida Finals Galore; Panthers and Everblades Both In Cup Finals

The Florida Panthers and their ECHL affiliate, the Florida Everblades, are both heading to the Finals in their respective leagues. The Everblades and Panthers just partnered the season and agreed on a multi-year deal after the Everblades had spent the previous three years as the Nashville Predator’s ECHL affiliate. Florida has spent time previously affiliated with the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers. The Panthers will face off against the Vegas Golden Knights as both clubs are looking for their franchise’s first Stanley Cup. On the flip side, the Everblades are looking for the second consecutive Kelly Cup Championship. It is the first time since 2016, when the Wheeling Nailers and Pittsburgh Penguins both made it to the finals, that both an ECHL and NHL affiliate from the same team are in the finals, Wheeling would lose to the Allen Americans in six games and the Penguins would beat the San Jose Sharks in six games to capture their fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history.

Underdogs Fighting Their Way To The Top

Florida Panthers Run to the Stanley Cup Final

The Everblades and Panthers were in similar situations heading into the playoffs, as the Everblades came into the Kelly Cup Playoffs as the 11 seed, and the Panthers were the 12 seed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Panthers would face the President Trophy Winner’s Boston Bruins, who had a historical season and were the Stanley Cup Favorites. The series began as expected, with the Boston taking three out of the first four games and putting the Panthers on the brink of elimination. But the biggest factor to the Panther’s comeback was Sergei Bobrovsky getting the start in game four as he has proven to be one of the key players during the Panther’s run. Down 3-1 in the series, the Panthers would scratch their way back with an OT win in Game 5 and would go on to win Game 6 to force a decisive Game 7 in Boston. Florida would hold a one-goal lead heading into the third period of Game 7, but two quick Bruins goals early in the third gave Boston momentum. Brandon Montour would score with a minute left in regulation to tie it, and then Carter Verhaeghe would win it in OT as the Panthers pulled off the impossible to advance to the second round. After that tough seven-game series with the Bruins, the Panthers made the next two series look like a piece of the cake; they would take down the Toronto Maple Leafs in five games, as Sam Reinhart got the game-winner in game three, and then it would be Nick Cousins who’d score in Game 5 to send the Panthers to their first Eastern Conference Finals appearance since 1996.

Game 1 would be one to remember. The Hurricanes would open up the scoring on the power play late in the first to take the lead. The Panthers would get goals from Aleksander Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe in the second to take the lead into the third. Carolina would once again take advantage of the PP and score early in the third on a goal from Stefan Noesen at 3:53. It would be awhile until we saw another goal as the game would go into four OTs, and with 13 seconds left in the fourth OT Matthew Tkachuk would win it for the Cats. The Panthers and Canes would find themselves in a familiar spot in game two as they headed to OT for the second straight game and the third straight OT game for the Panthers. Just like in Game 1, Tkachuk would be the hero scoring just 1:51 into the first and only OT period. In game 3, it would be Bobrovsky who’d steal the spotlight, making 32 saves to give the Panthers a 3-0 series lead. In game 7 The Panthers would get off to a hot start as Anthony Duclair would score just 41 seconds after the opening faceoff, and then Mattew Tkachuk made it 2-0 on a PP goal. Carolina would get a goal from Paul Stastny at 13:03 of the first, and then Teuvo Teravainen scored early in the second to tie the game. Ryan Lomberg would get his first of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to give the Panthers a 3-2 lead heading into the third. Once again, the Canes would tie it up once again as Jesper Fast scored at 16:38. It looked as if the series was headed for yet another OT game. Matthew Tkachuk would score with less than five seconds left in the third to win it for the Panthers and send them to the Stanley Cup Final.

Florida Everblades Run To The Kelly Cup Final

The Everblades snuck into the fourth and final spot under Head Coach Brad Ralph, who has not missed the Kelly Cup Playoffs in his career. The Panther’s ECHL affiliate would meet the South Carolina Stingrays in the Kelly Cup Playoffs opening round; the Everblades went 7-2-0-1 in the regular season against the Stingrays. In the series’ opening two games, each team would take turns shutting each other out as Cam Johnson would stop all 35 shots he faced, and Joe Pendenza and Tyler Irvine each had three-point nights. South Carolina would make a goaltending change in Game 2, which paid off as Clay Stevenson made 27 saves in a 4-0 win. The two sides would exchange wins over the next two games as the series would be evened up at two. Cam Johnson would shut out the Rays in Game 5, and it would be Joe Pendenza who’d net the game-winning goal in OT as the Blades eliminated the Rays in the six games.

The second round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs looked like it would be a cakewalk for the Everblades as they faced the Jacksonville Icemen and took the first three games of the series. Jacksonville however would take the next two games on the road and force the series back to Jacksonville. However, the Everblades would take Game 6 and set up a rematch of the 2022 Eastern Conference Finals with the Newfoundland Growlers. The Everblades would host the series’ first three games, with the last four being in Newfoundland. This was a huge advantage for the Everblades, who were 24-11-0-1 at Hertz Arena during the regular season, and the Everblades would take care of the Growlers in Game 1 in a 6-2 win as the Growlers have struggled in opening games after having a lot of time off. Newfoundland seemed to have finally found their game in the second period of Game 2 as they would outshoot the Blades 13-5 in the middle frame and hold a 3-1 lead. Florida wasn’t done, as they would erase multiple two-goal deficits to come back, as John McCarron would win the game in double OT for the Everblades.

Down 2-0 in the series, Newfoundland makes a goaltending change as Luke Cavallin would make his first start since the opening game of the Kelly Cup Playoffs, where he gave up five goals to the Adirondack Thunder and was yanked. Luke Cavallin led the Growlers to a 4-1, which had a record-setting number of PIMs. Newfoundland would head back home down 2-1 in the series, but for the second time in the series, 60 minutes wasn’t enough, and the teams would head to the locker room tied up at one. As the final minute of the first OT drew near, it seemed as if we’d be headed to a second overtime, but it would be Johnny Tychonick who’d win the game for the Growlers on the PP in the final 10 seconds to tie the series.

Coming into game 5 of the series, the Everblades had yet to find a way to score on the PP. Newfoundland would get on the board first as Pavel Gogolev found the back of the net at the 8:43 mark of the opening frame, but the Blades would quickly respond as Blake Winiecki scored less than a minute later. Pavel Gogolev would strike again just 39 seconds into the second to give the Growlers their lead back and one they held till the end of the second when Ben Masella picked up the Blades first PP goal of the series. John McCarron scored at 12:49 of the third for his second game-winning goal of the series as the Everblades put the Growlers on the brink of elimination. In Game Six, Pavel Gogolev would again find the back of the net for his eighth of the Kelly Cup Playoffs and third in the last two games at the 5:30 mark of the opening frame. Florida quickly tied it up as Will Caverly scored less than three minutes later. The Everblades would take the lead at the 4:43 mark of the second on a goal from Logan Lambdin on the PP. Tyler Boland would tie things up for the Growlers at the 8:42 mark of the period. John McCarron would strike again as he hit the 100-point plateau with his game-six game-winning goal and third game-winning goal of the series in double OT.

How Does Each Team Finish Off The Cinderella Story

The Panthers have the easier road to lifting the cup as they face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Finals. Goaltending will play a key role in heading into the Stanley Cup Finals, as it will be Adin Hill vs. Sergei Bobrovsky. Hill had a very solid post-season since Laurent Brossoit was injured. In 11 games, Hill has gone 7-3 with a 2.07 GAA, .937 SV%, and two shutouts. Bobrovsky has gone 11-2 with a 2.21 GAA, .937 SV%, and a shutout. Jack Eichel has led the Golden Knights with 18 points, including five of which have come on the PP. On the other side, Matthew Tkachuk has led the Panthers with nine goals and 12 assists for 21 points.

For the Everblades, it will not be easy as the Idaho Steelheads are the Brabham Cup Champions. After a tough battle with the Utah Grizzlies, who took them to six games, they took care of the Allen Americans in five games and finished off the Toledo Walleye in five games to become the Western Division Champions. When I look at the Everblades, I think two areas will determine the series: goaltending and the power-play. Cam Johnson was with the Everblades last year when they won the Kelly Cup, so he knows what it takes to get back there. He’s currently tied in wins with Idaho’s Adam Scheel and leads in saves and minutes played during the Kelly Cup Playoffs. Florida heads into the Kelly Cup Final, converting on 19.7% of their PPs overall, which will play a huge part during the Kelly Cup Final.

Armand Klisivitch

Inside The Rink ECHL Manager | Senior Editor Credentialed Reporter for the Adirondack Thunder & Worcester Railers.

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