ESTERO, Fla. – The Kelly Cup Finals shifted to southwest Florida for the first of three games Wednesday night. In the first two games of the series in Ohio, the Toledo Walleye saw a two-goal lead slip into a game one defeat and were completely flustered by a suffocating Florida Everblades defense in game two.
So, for the Walleye and their faithful, a road trip could not have come at a better time.
After being held to just three goals on 65 shots in the first two games of the championship series, the Walleye found their offensive stride in game three, scoring goals in every way possible; power-play, shorthanded, even strength, and empty net as they rolled to a 4-1 win. Florida continues to lead the 2022 Kelly Cup Finals, 2 games to 1, with game four Friday night in Estero.
Veteran forward John Albert scored his ninth goal of the playoffs at the 11-minute mark of the first when he potted a Brandon Hawkins shot past Everblades goaltender Cam Johnson and gave the Walleye a 1-0 lead. Just 2:25 later, Hawkins lit the lamp for the 14th time in the playoffs, and his first of two on the night, when he gathered in a pass from Randy Gazzola between the circles and fired a one-timer past Johnson to double the Walleye lead through one period.
After a defensive second period, the Walleye added to their lead with about 90 seconds, when Marcus Vela scored his fifth of the playoffs, capturing a slick feed from Josh Dickinson to beat Johnson shorthanded and extending the lead to 3-0 through 40 minutes.
“We kept our heads and played our game,” Walleye coach Dan Watson told the Toledo Blade after the contest. “We were resilient. We were doing the little things. We stuck to what we wanted to do.”
The two sides would trade goals in the third period, with Leivo Koper spoiling Billy Christopoulos‘ shutout bid late in the contest.
“I think they were the better team,” Everblades captain John McCarron told the Fort Myers News-Press after the game. “We had our chances, and I think if we capitalize on them it’s a different game.”
With three points on the night, Hawkins moved into a tie for the league lead in postseason points with 30, while he is third in goals (15) and assists (15).
The Walleye improved to 7-2 on the road in these playoffs, while the Everblades fell to 6-3 on home ice. According to the ECHL, this is the sixth time in league history the visiting team has won each of the first three games of the Riley/Kelly Cup Finals.
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