ESTERO, Fla. – Following Wednesday’s game three loss, the Newfoundland Growlers have once again found themselves on the brink of elimination. Newfoundland needed seven games to defeat the Trois-Rivières Lions in the North Division semifinals. In the division final, the Growlers battled back from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Reading Royals in seven games. Now with the Florida Everblades leading the Eastern Conference Final 3-0, the Growlers find themselves fighting to stay alive again.
It didn’t take long for Florida to get the offense going in this one. Only 26 seconds into the game, Alex Aleardi found himself wide open in the Newfoundland zone during a Growlers’ defensive lapse. While the Newfoundland defense was busy covering Zach Solow, Aleardi was skating in alone on goaltender Keith Petruzzelli for the first goal of the night.
Only seconds later, it was almost a two-goal game. Darik Angeli had a solid wraparound attempt, but was denied by Petruzzelli.
Later in the first, the Everblades were able to make it a two-goal game on a power play goal from Stefan LeBlanc, his fourth of the postseason. LeBlanc and Blake Winiecki traded passes before LeBlanc blistered a shot past Petruzzelli for the 2-0 lead.
The Growlers cut the lead in half less than a minute later. Gordie Green circled around the back of the Florida net before throwing the puck out in front. Orrin Centazzo was skating in and put the puck past Everblades netminder Cam Johnson.
Newfoundland tied it at 2-2 just under eight minutes into the middle frame. Tyler Boland passed the puck to Ben Finkelstein at the blue line, who passed it along to Zach O’Brien in the right circle. O’Brien passed to Jeremy McKenna in the slot and he was able to beat Johnson.
LeBlanc came close to regaining the lead for Florida when he hit the post later in the second. The puck bounced right back out to Petruzzelli, however, and the Newfoundland goaltender covered up.
With less than a second left on the clock in the second period, the Everblades took the lead once again. Florida captain John McCarron beat Boland on a faceoff in the Growlers’ zone, and the puck went straight to defenseman Chris McKay, who quickly fired it past Petruzzelli for the 3-2 lead.
Tempers started to flare in the third period. McKay and Newfoundland captain James Melindy got into a scuffle after Petruzzelli made a save. Both went off for roughing, and Melindy picked up an extra two minutes for a cross-check during the scuffle. As that penalty was expiring, the Everblades were setting up a play. Matteo Gennaro passed the puck to Lukas Kaelble from behind the net, then parked himself in front of Petruzzelli. Kaelble’s shot deflected off Gennaro and into the net for the 4-2 lead.
Newfoundland was not finished just yet, however. McKenna went to the box for unsportsmanlike conduct, but McCarron soon followed with a tripping penalty, evening it up. During the four-on-four, the Growlers created a lot of action in the offensive zone, but Johnson was able to stop every shot. Newfoundland wasn’t able to capitalize on the ensuing power play, but only a few seconds after McCarron’s penalty expired, the Growlers scored a fluke goal.
O’Brien skated in on Johnson but couldn’t get a good angle for a shot with the goalie challenging him the whole way, so he tried to stuff the puck in from the corner of the net. The puck squeezed through and was momentarily sitting just in front of the goal line before Johnson’s skate knocked it in.
The Growlers were only trailing by one and suddenly had the momentum in their favor with over six minutes left in regulation.
That was ended with a trip by Green with less than five minutes to play. Newfoundland would spend two of those minutes shorthanded, and a penalty kill is the last thing a team needs when trying to make a comeback in a crucial playoff game.
Tempers flared again seconds after Green’s penalty. Florida’s Angeli and Newfoundland’s Marc Johnstone shoved at each other following a faceoff between the two, and both headed to their respective penalty boxes, jawing at each other until after play resumed.
The Growlers killed off the Green penalty, and pulled Petruzzelli for an extra attacker with less than two minutes remaining, but the Everblades’ skaters prevented them from getting any good chances on Johnson, and the game ended in a 4-3 Florida win.
The teams will face off again Friday night in Estero, in what could be the Growlers’ final game of 2021-22. If Florida wins, they will move on to the Kelly Cup Final against either the Toledo Walleye or Utah Grizzlies. If Newfoundland wins, they will force a game five Saturday, also in Estero. If needed, games six and seven would be in St. John’s Tuesday and Wednesday.
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