ST. JOHN’S. N.L. – For the second consecutive year, the Newfoundland Growlers and Florida Everblades will face off in the ECHL’s Eastern Conference Final. Last year, the Everblades took down the Growlers in five games before going on to defeat the Toledo Walleye, also in five games, to win the Kelly Cup. These two teams also faced each other in the conference final in 2019, Newfoundland’s inaugural season. The Growlers eliminated the Everblades that year, then went on to defeat the Walleye for the Cup.
Nine players from each team return from their respective 2022 postseason rosters, including Newfoundland’s Pavel Gogolev, Orrin Centazzo, and Tyler Boland and Florida’s Stefan Leblanc, Cam Johnson, and Joe Pendenza. Zach Solow, who was with Florida last season, has switched alliances and now plays for Newfoundland. Three each from the 2019 series remain with their respective clubs. Those are Growlers forwards Zach O’Brien, Todd Skirving, and Derian Plouffe and Everblades forwards John McCarron, Blake Winiecki and defenseman Ben Masella.
Final Regular Season Records
Newfoundland: 48-22-2-0, 98 points (1st in North Division, 1st in Eastern Conference, 4th in ECHL)
Florida: 38-25-4-5, 85 points (4th in South Division, 7th in Eastern Conference, 11th in ECHL)
How They Got Here
Newfoundland: Defeated Adirondack Thunder 4-1 in North Division Semifinals; defeated Reading Royals 4-1 in North Division Final
Florida: Defeated South Carolina Stingrays 4-2 in South Division Semifinals; defeated Jacksonville Icemen 4-2 in South Division Final
Game 1: Friday, May 19 – Newfoundland at FLORIDA – 7:30 pm ET
Game 2: Saturday, May 20 – Newfoundland at FLORIDA – 7:00 pm ET
Game 3: Monday, May 22 – Newfoundland at FLORIDA – 7:30 pm ET
Game 4: Thursday, May 25 – Florida at NEWFOUNDLAND – 7 pm NT
*Game 5: Sunday, May 28 – Florida at NEWFOUNDLAND – 4 pm NT
*Game 6: Tuesday, May 30 – Florida at NEWFOUNDLAND – 7 pm NT
*Game 7: Wednesday, May 31 – Florida at NEWFOUNDLAND – 7 pm NT
Season Series Recap
The Growlers and Everblades only played three games during the regular season, all three in Estero. All games were decided in regulation, with Newfoundland winning two. In net, rookie Dryden McKay earned both Growlers victories, while Johnson picked up a win and both losses for the Everblades. Isaac Johnson (two goals, two assists), Brett Budgell (one goal, three assists), and O’Brien (three assists) led the way for Newfoundland. Florida’s top point-producers were Sean Josling (three goals) and Lukas Kälble (three assists).
How Newfoundland Wins
Capitalize on special teams. Of the two teams, Newfoundland has the clear advantage here. The Growlers were near the top of the league in both power play (24.2%) and penalty kill (82.4%) during the regular season. The Everblades were near the bottom in both (14.9% on the PP, 79.3% on the PK). In the postseason, Florida has improved dramatically with the man-advantage (23.3%) but is still faltering on the penalty kill (79.6%). Meanwhile, Newfoundland has improved in both areas (28.9% on the PP, 85.7% on the PK). If the Growlers can draw some penalties and continue to capitalize on their chances, they should have no problem winning this series.
Learn from past mistakes. Last season, Newfoundland had two rookie goaltenders in the postseason and was forced to over-rely on one of them, Keith Petruzzelli. By the time the Growlers had reached the Eastern Conference Final, Petruzzelli had already played 14 games and likely didn’t have much left in the tank. Newfoundland is in a similar situation this postseason, with two rookie netminders. McKay has appeared in all ten of the Growlers’ games thus far. Despite being on a hot streak and doing extremely well in that span, fatigue may eventually set in. If it does, Newfoundland Head Coach Eric Wellwood would be wise to give Luke Cavallin a start or two.
How Florida Wins
The Everblades need to be far better on the penalty kill. With Newfoundland boasting a 28.9 power play percentage, Florida’s 79.6% on the penalty kill is not going to be enough. The Everblades will also need to stay on track with the man-advantage. They have been at 23.3% on the power play in the postseason and cannot afford to revert back to their regular season ways, when they were only at a pathetic 14.9%.
Florida will likely stick with Johnson in net, as he has proven reliable in the postseason. Last season, he went 15-2-1 with a 1.90 goals-against average and 0.931 save percentage on the way to the Kelly Cup Championship. This year, his numbers aren’t quite as stellar (2.11 GAA, 0.926 save percentage), but he has still been reliable as the Everblades’ go-to guy. If the defense can help him out a bit more, Florida should do well in this series.
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