ESTERO, Fla. – After Saturday’s win over the Newfoundland Growlers, the Florida Everblades are advancing to the Kelly Cup Final for the fifth time in their history. As victors of the Eastern Conference Final, the Everblades also claim the E.A. “Bud” Gingher Trophy.
Their opponent did not make it easy, however. The Growlers staved off elimination in game four with a 4-1 victory, then put up a heck of a fight Saturday in game five.
Florida jumped out to a quick lead only 2:52 into the game. Zach Solow picked up a loose puck along the boards in the offensive zone and passed to Stefan LeBlanc at the blue line. His shot deflected off Alex Aleardi and into the net.
Less than 30 seconds later, LeBlanc picked up his second point of the night. Newfoundland’s Tristan Pomerleau tried and failed to clear the Growlers’ zone. Florida’s John McCarron kept it in and passed it around the boards behind the net to LeBlanc at the blue line. While he was setting up, Pomerleau and Everblades forward Darik Angeli were crashing into each other next to the Growlers’ net. Angeli came into contact with Growlers’ goalie Keith Petruzzelli. LeBlanc took a shot from the blue line, and the puck deflected off Pomerleau and into the net. With the possibility of goaltender interference, the play came under review. The referees watched the replay and deemed it a good goal.
The Everblades added another quick goal, this time from defenseman Ben Masella, and the Growlers found themselves in a 3-0 hole.
After giving up three goals in a span of 1:18, Newfoundland Head Coach Eric Wellwood called a timeout. Whatever he said to his skaters quickly paid off.
Only three minutes later, Tyler Boland got the Growlers on the board. Pavel Gogolev skated into the offensive zone with the puck and threw it on net from an odd angle. Florida netminder Cam Johnson made the save, but the puck bounced off the boards behind him and came right back to the side of the net. Brennan Kapcheck tried to knock it in, but it went off the crossbar. Boland was right there to roof it over Johnson’s glove.
Less than five minutes later, the Growlers were giving the Everblades something to worry about. Matt Hellickson grabbed the puck off a faceoff and skated up the ice with Orrin Centazzo, passing across the ice in the neutral zone. Centazzo tried to pass back to Hellickson as they entered the Florida zone, but the puck pinballed before finding Gogolev’s stick. He lifted it over Johnson’s shoulder to bring his team to within one. The momentum had shifted in Newfoundland’s favor.
Later in the first period, the Growlers killed off a 19-second 5-on-3, then Matteo Pietroniro fought Angeli. Angeli got the better of the Newfoundland defenseman and got the crowd pumped up, and the momentum seemed to shift again.
The Everblades scored again in the second period. McCarron beat Growlers forward Gordie Green to a loose puck in the corner and passed to Angeli, who put it home for the 4-2 lead.
Just over 30 seconds later, there was a line brawl after Growlers forward Nathan Noel hit Masella behind the Florida net. Johnson left his crease to go after Noel, and all hell broke loose. When all was said and done, there were seven minors assessed in the incident, and a power play for Florida. The fans were pumped up again, and the Everblades fed off it.
Less than two minutes later, Aleardi notched his second of the game. The Everblades were cycling the puck in the offensive zone before getting it to Aleardi, who wristed it past Petruzzelli for the 5-2 lead.
With two goals and a 13-2 shot advantage, the second period weighed heavily in Florida’s favor. The Everblades carried the lead and the momentum into the second intermission.
The Growlers would not go down without a fight, however. They owned the third period, outshooting the Everblades 15-4 and outscoring them 3-0.
Newfoundland’s comeback came in the latter half of the third frame. The first goal came from Jeremy McKenna. Centazzo tried to score off a faceoff in the Florida zone. Johnson made the save but couldn’t cover up the rebound before McKenna got his stick on it and found an opening.
Two minutes later, while on the penalty kill, Derian Plouffe skated into the Florida zone with Boland. Plouffe passed from one faceoff circle to the other, setting up Boland for his second of the night.
Less than 90 seconds later, Gogolev took advantage of a turnover by Joe Pendenza, picking up the puck behind the net and passing to Boland out front to complete his hat trick. The Newfoundland bench went wild.
In a span of 3:33, the Growlers had fought back from an almost certain elimination situation and put themselves in position to win the game.
Both teams held the 5-5 tie throughout the remaining 4:38 of regulation before heading to overtime.
Newfoundland’s Ryan Chyzowski had a chance in the extra session, but his shot went wide of the net and sailed out of the zone. Pendenza picked up the puck in the neutral zone and passed to rookie defenseman Xavier Bouchard, who skated in and rifled it past Petruzzelli for the win, the Eastern Conference championship, and a spot in the Kelly Cup Final.
The Everblades will now face the Toledo Walleye in their quest for the Cup, with that series beginning June 3.
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