ST. JOHN’S, NL – The Newfoundland Growlers and Florida Everblades met up Friday in a rematch of the 2019 Eastern Conference Final. In that series, the road team won the first three games. The 2022 rematch is starting out the same way, with the road team taking the first game of the series.
The Growlers got off to a quick start, scoring the first goal of the ECHL’s Conference Finals only 3:16 into the game. With Florida’s Stefan LeBlanc in the penalty box for tripping, Newfoundland’s Tyler Boland netted his team-leading 13th goal of the postseason. Boland zig-zagged his way through three Florida skaters (Jake Jaremko, Lukas Kaelble, then Chris McKay) to get to the net before beating netminder Cam Johnson five-hole.
Both teams had several quality scoring chances throughout the first two periods, but the goaltenders stood on their heads to make some spectacular saves. The Growlers kept their 1-0 lead until late in the second period.
With less than four minutes remaining in the middle frame and with Jordan Sambrook in the box for a cross-check, the Everblades were able to tie the game with a shorthanded goal. The puck was cleared from the Florida zone by John McCarron, and Dylan Vander Esch picked it up in the neutral zone. He passed to Jaremko, who went five-hole on Newfoundland goaltender Keith Petruzzelli.
Only 35 seconds later, the Everblades would take their first lead of the night. Sambrook’s penalty expired and he was sprung from the box. He received a clearing pass from Stephen Desrocher and skated into the Growlers’ zone with the puck. Newfoundland’s Brennan Kapcheck poked it away, but McCarron picked it up for Florida and passed to Sambrook, who took a shot from the faceoff dot. The puck got redirected in the crease and trickled past Petruzzelli’s glove for Florida’s first lead of the night.
The Growlers foiled the Everblades’ lead early in the third period when captain James Melindy netted his first of the postseason, a blast from the blue line that appeared to fool Johnson.
Florida regained their lead a little over a minute later when their captain (McCarron) set up Darik Angeli for his second of the postseason. McCarron got away from Newfoundland defenseman Noel Hoefenmayer behind the Growlers’ net. He passed the puck to Angeli, who was waiting right in front of the net. Petruzzelli couldn’t make the save, and the Everblades were up 3-2.
Newfoundland’s Ryan Chyzowski made the crowd go wild with a power play goal seven minutes later. With McKay’s tripping penalty winding down, Gordie Green flipped the puck back to Chyzowski in the neutral zone. Chyzowski skated all the way to the left faceoff dot before rifling the puck past Johnson to tie the game at 3-3.
Both goalies were able to make the necessary saves the remainder of regulation, and the teams were headed to overtime.
The game-winning goal came on a power play. Chyzowski, the hero in regulation, was called for delay of game after his clearing attempt sailed up and over the glass. The Growlers’ penalty kill was successful for much of Chyzowski’s infraction, with several blocked shots and a couple crucial saves by Petruzzelli. But the Everblades wouldn’t let up. After several passes failed to open up a lane, Florida’s Jaremko tried to stuff the puck past Petruzzelli. Linemate Zach Solow found an opening at the corner of the net and was able to stuff it in for the game-winner 4:47 into overtime.
Despite the back-and-forth play during Friday’s game, Newfoundland’s weariness was starting to show at times. The Growlers were coming off a tough ten-day, seven-game series against the Reading Royals, the top team in the Eastern Conference, while the Everblades had nine days to rest after sweeping the lower-seeded Jacksonville Icemen. This series is a little more spaced out, potentially lasting 13 days.
The victory was Everblades Head Coach Brad Ralph’s 56th ECHL playoff win, setting a new record for the league.
Game one of the Western Conference Final between the Toledo Walleye and Utah Grizzlies also went to overtime, the first time since 1999 both conference finals needed extra periods. Utah won that game 5-4.
The Growlers and Everblades will face off Sunday in St. John’s before heading to Estero for games three, four, and five (if needed). Then, if necessary, the series would shift back to St. John’s for games six and seven.
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