ORLANDO, FLA – It has been said that there very few things in life that are guaranteed, death and taxes being the most prominent among them. When it comes to crunch time for the Florida Everblades, the name of John McCarron goes right to the top of the list.
Sunday afternoon at the Amway Center, McCarron scored 30 seconds into overtime to lift the Everblades (10-4-0-0) to a thrilling 4-3 victory over the host Orlando Solar Bears (6-5-1-0) in front of a COVID-restricted crowd of 2,250. McCarron’s tally, his seventh of the season, capped what was a thrilling contest that saw the Solar Bears comeback three different times only to have their hearts broken yet again by their in-state rivals.
It was especially gut-wrenching for the home team, which for the second straight day saw it power play connect. The Solar Bears scored three times with the man advantage on Sunday after netting two the night before against the top penalty killing team in the ECHL.
Coming off a somewhat lackluster performance the night before, Orlando Head Coach and General Manager Drake Berehowsky turned to goalie Garret Sparks to hopefully fuel a victory. Sparks, playing for the first time in the Amway Center since April 25, 2015 (a playoff game against Florida) when he was with the Solar Bears, survived several barrages by the Everblades in the opening frame. Sparks turned away 14 shots by the visitors to keep his sheet clean. At the other end of the ice, Florida netminder Jake Hildebrand, who had beaten Orlando on Saturday, was equally as tough. He stopped all seven Solar Bears shots he faced to send the teams to the first intermission deadlocked at 0-0.
The second period started with a flurry of penalties – a theme that continued throughout the middle twenty minutes and played a key role. The teams traded getting sent to the penalty box but it was not until the fourth call, which went to the Solar Bears’ Rich Boyd, that the scoreboard changed. The Everblades worked the puck around the boards but an Orlando defender seemed ready to make a steal. Instead, the disc hopped over his stick to Alex Kyle who immediately fed it to McCarron who was in the slot. As two Orlando players converged, McCarron slid a backhand pass to Michael Huntebrinker who banged it home for his seventh of the season at the 11:53 mark.
Things got crazy late in the frame when a series of overlapping calls gave Florida a 5-on-three advantage which became a 4-on-3 and eventually a 4-on-3 for Orlando. The Solar Bears cashed in when Jake Coughler took a drop pass from Dylan Sadowy and floated into the faceoff circle to Hildebrand’s right. Coughler saw a shooting lane and ripped a wrist shot high to the top corner on the far side. It clanged off the inside of the post and settled into the back of the net for Coughler’s second a a tie game.
In the dying seconds of the period, Logan Roe came out of the box just as an Orlando blueliner was watching the puck bounce past him at the line. Roe picked it up in the neutral zone and went in alone, snapping the puck past Sparks’ stick side less than a second before the horn sounded. Video review confirmed that the shot had beaten the clock, giving Roe his third of the year and the Everblades a 3-2 lead heading to the third.
Less than a minute into the final stanza, the home team was handed a power play chance and made Florida pay. Tristin Langan made the key play, driving into the Everblades end and set up Sadowy who beat Hildebrand for his second goal as a Solar Bear (third if you count his shootout game-winner on Friday against Jacksonville) to even the score at 2-2.
The tie lasted all of 49 seconds before Florida went back in front for the third time in the game. Jeff Malott did the heavy lifting, carrying the puck in the Orlando defensive end, getting around a defenseman and going to the net. Malott had a couple of shots, scoring on the second opportunity in tight for his first to put the Everblades up 3-2.
With just under three minutes left in regulation and down by one, the Solar Bears went on the power play. Alan Lyszczarczyk eventually got the puck in the corner and skated to the slot. He went across the face of the net, getting Hildebrand to commit before lifting the puck into the cage for his second goal (and second tally in as many days) and a 3-3 tie.
In the extra period, Orlando got off a shot that Hildebrand fended off. On the ensuing counterattack, McCarron and Kile broke out on a 2-on-1. McCarron was able to get an angle on the Solar Bears defender and roofed a top corner shot over Sparks’ shoulder for the game-winner.
In securing the victory, Hildebrand stopped 32 of 35 Orlando shots while Sparks turned away 31 of 35 Florida shots in suffering his first loss of the season.
Orlando is off until Wednesday when they open a four game set with the Greenville Swamp Rabbits at the Amway Center at 7 p.m. Florida next takes to the ice on Friday when they visit the Jacksonville Icemen at the Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena at 7 p.m.
Notes: Florida finished the game 2-for-6 on the power play while Orlando went 3-for-6… Orlando’s Mark Auk extended his assist streak to five games – as many games as he has played for the Solar Bears… Solar Bears forward Taylor Cammarata extended his points streak to three games (1 goal, 2 assists)… The weekend marked two milestones. Orlando Head Coach Drake Berehowsky coached in his 350th game with the Solar Bears on Saturday night while Florida Head Equipment Manager John Sellars worked his 800th professional game.
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