ST. JOHN’S, NL – The Newfoundland Growlers and Florida Everblades faced off Sunday in game two of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference Final series. Between strong defensive plays and stellar goaltending, the offense was limited to only two goals, both of them coming from the Everblades.
The opening period was a microcosm of how the game would go: Predictably, both teams’ goaltenders were strong as usual. But in an uncharacteristic period (and game) for Newfoundland, the Growlers were shut down not only by the goaltender, but also by the Everblades’ defense.
Between a sluggish start by Newfoundland and strong defensive plays from his teammates, Florida netminder Cam Johnson did not have to make a single save until the 7:50 mark of the first period. That was the longest it has ever taken the Growlers to get a shot on goal during the postseason. By the time they registered their first shot on goal, the Everblades already had nine. Johnson did face a flurry of shots in the latter half of the first, and he stopped all of them.
At the other end of the ice, a tired Keith Petruzzelli came up big in net once again for the Growlers. Petruzzelli has started all 16 postseason games for Newfoundland thus far but continues to shine, consistently making the big saves for his team.
Neither team was able to beat the goaltenders until 12:08 of the second period. Florida’s Levko Koper battled Newfoundland’s Ben Finkelstein for the puck behind the Growlers’ net. The puck was poked free, and Everblades forward Alex Aleardi retrieved it in the corner. He passed to Stefan LeBlanc at the blue line, who faked a slapshot before firing the puck towards the net. Zach Solow got his stick on it and redirected the puck past Petruzzelli for the 1-0 lead.
The remainder of the game continued to be a goaltending battle, with neither Johnson nor Petruzzelli allowing another goal.
The Everblades were able to add an empty-net goal, however. Defenseman Ben Masella sent the puck sailing from his own defensive zone faceoff circle all the way down the ice and into the empty net with only 43 seconds remaining in the game. That was Masella’s first goal this postseason.
The 2-0 Florida win was the team’s fourth shutout this postseason. It was also Johnson’s fourth shutout, putting him in a second-place tie with Riley Gill and J.P. Lamoureux for shutouts in a single postseason. The record is currently held by Maxime Gingras with five. If Florida wins this series, Johnson could very well break that record.
Newfoundland finished the game 0-for-5 on the power play and were outshot for the first time since May 3rd. Sunday was the first time the Growlers have been shut out in the postseason. If they want to salvage this series, they need to take advantage of their power play opportunities and pepper Johnson with quality shots.
The series now shifts to Estero for games three Wednesday, four Friday, and possibly five Saturday. If the Growlers can come up with two wins in Florida, the teams would return to St. John’s for game six May 31st and, if needed, game seven June 1st. The winner of this series will advance to the Kelly Cup Final against either the Toledo Walleye or Utah Grizzlies.
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