ESTERO, Fla. – The Newfoundland Growlers needed to pull out all the stops Friday in game four of the Eastern Conference Final. Heading into the game, the Florida Everblades led the series 3-0, and Newfoundland would be eliminated if they weren’t able to pick up a win.
The Growlers have not lost a playoff series since the team entered the league for the 2018-19 season and will not go down without a fight, as seen in the North Division Final against the Reading Royals. When the Royals led the series 3-1, the Growlers rallied and won the next three games to advance to the conference final.
Newfoundland avoided elimination for the fifth time this postseason with Friday’s 4-1 victory over Florida.
After being a scratch in the previous game, Newfoundland’s Todd Skirving opened the scoring Friday night. Gordie Green picked up the puck behind the Florida net and threw it out in front, where Skirving could easily tap it in.
The Growlers heavily outshot the Everblades in the first period, and it paid off with a 1-0 lead heading into the middle frame.
Green extended the Growlers’ lead close to the halfway mark. Brennan Kapcheck fed Green for a slight breakaway. Florida netminder Cam Johnson appeared to get his stick on it, but the puck deflected over his shoulder and into the net.
The Everblades got on the board with less than a minute remaining in the second period. Stefan LeBlanc passed the puck to Dylan Vander Esch, who chipped it along the boards into the corner. Vander Esch went in to retrieve and found Jordan Sambrook at the top of the crease, and he deflected the puck past Newfoundland goaltender Keith Petruzzelli.
The Everblades entered the third period only trailing by one goal and with the game still well within reach.
Growlers defenseman Ben Finkelstein nearly scored 45 seconds into the third, but the puck hit the crossbar. The referees reviewed the play and confirmed there was no goal.
The next goal didn’t come until late in the third period and also needed to be reviewed. Green skated in on Johnson but didn’t have a good angle, so he skated around the net and tried to stuff the puck in. He and Skirving both poked at it as Johnson tried to hold it with his skate. The referees watched the tape and determined it was a good goal, credited to Green, and the Growlers led 3-1 with 3:22 remaining.
Derian Plouffe sealed the deal with an empty-net goal with less than a minute remaining.
Newfoundland’s Green and Petruzzelli the clear stars of the game, with Green picking up three points (two goals, one assist) and Petruzzelli having another strong game, making 31 saves along the way.
There were several big hits and plenty of pushing and shoving throughout the game. Tempers flared several times, most notably the near line brawl twelve minutes into the second period. Several penalties were assessed, and both penalty boxes were full as a result. This may be something to watch during the remainder of the series as the hostilities continue to boil over.
The two teams meet up again Saturday for game five, with the Growlers fighting to avoid elimination for a sixth time. If they are successful, the series will return to St. John’s for game six Tuesday and, if needed, game seven Wednesday. If the Everblades win, they will advance to the Kelly Cup Final.
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