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2022 Kelly Cup Playoffs

Everblades One Win Away from Second Kelly Cup Championship

The Florida Everblades snatched victory from the jaws of defeat on Friday night, winning game four of the Kelly Cup Finals 3-2 in overtime. 

Everblades One Win Away from Second Kelly Cup Championship

ESTERO, Fla. – The Florida Everblades snatched victory from the jaws of defeat on Friday night, winning game four of the Kelly Cup Finals 3-2 in overtime.

Game four was a defensive matchup, with Toledo Walleye goaltender Billy Christopoulos and Everblades netminder Cam Johnson putting on quite a goaltending battle into the late going before the teams traded goals in the last three minutes of regulation.

While on the power-play, Everblades defenseman Jake McLaughlin got the scoring started 8:21 into the contest, firing a one-timer from Blake Winiecki that beat Christopoulos to give the ‘Blades a 1-0 lead. For McLaughlin, it was his first professional playoff goal.

Josh Dickinson put Toledo back on even ground at 14:44 of the first period when he redirected a pass from TJ Hensick that beat Johnson to level the game 1-1.

Christopoulos and Johnson took center stage for the next 40-plus minutes of game action, making multiple tough saves for each side.

The game remained tied late into the third period and appeared destined for overtime when Xavier Bouchard was whistled for tripping with 3:21 left. It didn’t take long for the Walleye power-play to strike — 47 seconds to be exact — when Matt Berry found a soft spot in the Florida penalty kill and received a sharp pass from Hensick to beat Johnson and give the Walleye a 2-1 lead.

Given how the game had gone, it would make sense to think that Berry’s goal would be the game-winner and tie the series.

That is until Joe Pendenza, who had not scored since game three of the Jacksonville series, re-emerged on the goal sheet. With the extra attacker on for Florida, the veteran forward received a feed from Stefan Leblanc and fired a shot from the top of the right faceoff circle that beat Christopoulos to tie the game at 2-2. It is not conclusive in the replay, but you could make the case Christopoulos was screened on the goal. Either way, there was no interference on the play.

Sixty minutes would not be enough to settle matters, and for the first time since game two of the 2019 Kelly Cup Finals, we were headed for free hockey. Throughout the 2022 Playoffs, the Florida Everblades have been overtime warriors, entering game four with a record of 5-1 in extra time. The only loss came at the hands of the Greenville Swamp Rabbits in game five of their opening-round series (double overtime).

Both teams had multiple chances to end the game early in the first overtime, but Christopoulos and Johnson were equal to the task. With Toledo getting caught in a bad change, Jordan Sambrook fired a stretch pass to Matteo Gennaro and dropped it off to Lukas Kaelble, who beat Christopoulos blocker side to give Florida a 3-2 win.

The goal was Kaelble’s first professional playoff goal and first overtime playoff goal.

Florida improved to 6-1 in overtime games this playoff season, which is tied for the second most overtime wins in league playoff history.

With the win, Florida leads the series 3 games to 1 and has three chances to win their second Kelly Cup Championship, first since 2012. The first such chance comes in under 24 hours in the Everblades’ final home game of the 2021-22 season at Hertz Arena.

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    Matthew Harding is the Managing Editor for Field Pass Hockey, covers the ECHL and the Wichita Thunder. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @FPHThunder.

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