ESTERO, FLA – After starting the 2020-21 ECHL regular season with five straight wins, the Florida Everblades found themselves entering the 2021 portion of the schedule on a two game losing streak. The second loss came Wednesday night at the hands of their rivals, the Orlando Solar Bears.
When the two teams met again on Saturday night at Hertz Arena, the Everblades had revenge on their minds – and they got it with room to spare.
Goalie Cam Johnson was rock solid, stopping all 31 shots he faced as host Florida (6-2-0-0) blanked Orlando (4-2-0-0) by a final of 3-0 in front of a COVID-restricted crowd of 3,898. The win by the Everblades also ended the Solar Bears winning streak at four.
The Everblades started their busy week by having a number of players recalled by the Nashville Predators ahead of the start of the NHL team’s training camp. On Thursday, Orlando had a similar situation occur when their NHL parent club, the Tampa Bay Lightning, recalled a handful of players who had played a huge role in the Solar Bears’ 7-4 win at home on Wednesday. With the teams on seemingly equal footing, the Saturday contest – the second of three consecutive meetings – was expected to be a wild one.
The visiting Solar Bears came out on fire in the first period, pounding six shots on Johnson in the first 1:35 of the frame. Johnson, who had been the victim of Orlando’s offensive onslaught on Wednesday, stood tall and turned away all of them and another at the 4:03 mark.
Thanks to their netminder, the Everblades were able to weather the opening salvo from their bitter rival and took control. Over the final 16 minutes of the opening stanza, Florida outshot Orlando 8-1 and took the lead for good when Myles Powell set up teammate Levko Koper who beat Solar Bears rookie goalie Michael Lackey for his second goal of the season at the 14:18 mark to make it 1-0.
Lackey, who had beaten the Everblades two nights before, made a brilliant save to thwart a three-on-one attack by the home team early in the second to keep the Solar Bears down by just one. He was not so lucky a little bit later in the frame when sniper Michael Huntebrinker cleaned up the rebound of a shot by Michael Downing during a Florida power play for his fourth goal of the season (and league-leading third on the man advantage) at 8:35 to double the lead.
Late in the period, it was Koper’s turn to set up Powell. Koper fed the puck to a streaking Powell who turned a rookie Orlando defenseman inside out, got Lackey moving and tucked it inside the far post for his third of the year to give the Everblades a commanding 3-0 head heading into the third period.
Playing with desperation in the final twenty minutes, the Solar Bears unloaded a season-high 17 shots on Johnson in the period. They were helped by having two-five-on-three man advantages but Johnson was dialed in and not to be denied a shutout. Johnson’s teammates helped their goalie out immensely, limiting Orlando to just two shots on net during the two-man advantage time.
For Johnson, the win was his fourth of the season and his second shutout, dropping his goals against average to 2.03 and upping his save percentage to .930. Orlando’s Lackey took the loss, making 18 saves in 40 minutes of action before being relieved by Clint Windsor for the third period. Windsor was a perfect 14-for-14 in the save column during his 20 minutes of work.
The two teams will finish their three game run with a Sunday afternoon 3 p.m. matinee contest at the Amway Center in Orlando.
Notes: Final shots were 35-31 in favor of Orlando… The teams combined for 31 shot (Orlando 17, Florida 14) in the third period… Orlando went 0-for-6 on the power play while Florida finished 1-for-4… The game was the 300th in an Everblades uniform for Fort Myers, Florida native defenseman Logan Roe.
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