ST. JOHN’S, NL – Round three of the Kelly Cup playoffs begins Friday, and it’s a very familiar situation in the Eastern Conference. The last time the North Division saw a postseason was 2019, and the team that advanced to the conference final from that division was none other than the Newfoundland Growlers. The team that advanced from the South Division? The Florida Everblades.
Between the two teams, there are 11 players remaining from the 2019 series. For Newfoundland, the remaining skaters are forwards Zach O’Brien, Derian Plouffe, and Todd Skirving, as well as defensemen Garrett Johnston, James Melindy, and Evan Neugold. On the Florida side, forwards John McCarron, Michael Neville, Nathan Perkovich, Blake Winiecki, and defenseman Ben Masella all return.
The Growlers took the 2019 Eastern Conference Final series 4-1 over the Everblades. Of those four Newfoundland victories, three were shutouts and two were blowouts. The Growlers then went on to defeat the Toledo Walleye in six games for the Kelly Cup Championship.
The Growlers will be looking for a repeat of 2019, while the Everblades will be fighting for redemption.
Final Regular Season Records:
Newfoundland Growlers: 42-20-4-1, 89 points (2nd in Eastern Conference – 67 games played in regular season)
Florida Everblades: 42-20-6-4, 94 points (3rd in Eastern Conference)
How They Got Here:
Newfoundland Growlers: Newfoundland defeated Trois-Rivieres in North Division semifinals, 4-3 and Reading in North Division final, 4-3
Florida Everblades: Florida defeated Greenville in South Division semifinals, 4-2 and Jacksonville in South Division final, 4-0
Game 1 – Friday, May 20 – Florida at NEWFOUNDLAND – 7:00 pm NT
Game 2 – Sunday, May 22 – Florida at NEWFOUNDLAND – 7:00 pm NT
Game 3 – Wednesday, May 25 – Newfoundland at FLORIDA – 7:30 pm ET
Game 4 – Friday, May 27 – Newfoundland at FLORIDA – 7:30 pm ET
Game 5 (if needed) – Saturday, May 28 – Newfoundland at FLORIDA – 7:00 pm ET
Game 6 (if needed) – Tuesday, May 31 – Florida at NEWFOUNDLAND – 7:00 pm NT
Game 7 (if needed) – Wednesday, June 1 – Florida at NEWFOUNDLAND – 7:00 pm NT
Season Series Recap:
The teams did not face each other in the regular season.
How Newfoundland Wins:
The Growlers need to jump out to an early lead in the first period and maintain it. Newfoundland is the only team remaining in the playoffs who is undefeated if leading after the first period of play (7-0-0-0).
If the Growlers want to advance to the Kelly Cup Final, they will need to dramatically improve on both the power play and the penalty kill. They were tops in the league for both during the regular season (27.9% power play, 85.1% penalty kill). Their power play has dropped to fifth (22.8%) in the postseason, while their penalty kill sits at 11th (78.4%).
Goaltender Keith Petruzzelli needs some rest. Head coach Eric Wellwood trusts him, but the rookie has started every game for Newfoundland this postseason. His backup, Rylan Parenteau, is a fellow rookie with less experience at the pro level. Unless the Growlers get Evan Cormier back from the AHL’s Manitoba Moose, it will likely be Petruzzelli the whole way. The good news: Cormier was included on Newfoundland’s playoff eligible list, and the Moose have been eliminated from the postseason, so it’s a very real possibility the Growlers could get some help in net.
How Florida Wins:
Florida needs to beat Newfoundland at their own game. The Growlers are lethal when leading after the first period, but they are all bark and no bite if tied or trailing after the opening frame (1-6-0-0). If Florida wants to win this series, they will need to hold off Newfoundland during the opening 20 minutes.
The Everblades should be well-rested after having more than a week between games, their reward for sweeping the Icemen in the South Division Final. Florida has played a total of 10 games during the first two rounds of the playoffs, while Newfoundland has played 14. The Growlers needed seven games to advance in each of the divisional rounds. To make matters worse, the North Division Final was seven games in only ten days, with flights taking up the “off” days. Newfoundland is a tired team, and Florida needs to take advantage of that by wearing them down even more early in the series.
The Everblades would be wise to stick with Cam Johnson in net. Johnson has been on fire this postseason, going 7-0-1-0, and has been stingy to boot. His 1.38 goals-against average and 0.942 save percentage lead all goaltenders remaining in the postseason.
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