Everblades Face First ‘Must Win’ Game Thursday

By Chris Umpierre
The News-Press

They have no margin for miscues, no room for lapses.

The Florida Everblades must beat the Dayton Bombers in back-to-back games or they’ll be arranging golf tee times and talking about what could’ve been.

For the first time this postseason, the Blades will be facing elimination in Thursday’s Game 6 of the ECHL American Conference Finals. Dayton, which has a three-games-to-two advantage, can capture the best-of-7 series and advance to the league-championship series with one more victory.

Florida must win Thursday to set up a historic Game 7, which would be Friday at Germain Arena. The Blades have never played a Game 7 in their nine-year history.

“I think we’re more angry than anything else,” said Florida general manager Craig Brush, whose club dropped two of three games in Dayton. Florida blew a two-goal lead in losing 4-2 in Game 5.

“I think they’re mad that they let (Game 5) slip through their fingers. I think you’ll see a really gritty effort (Thursday). We haven’t been in this must-win position this year. Let’s see how we react.”

History isn’t on Florida’s side. The Blades are 3-8 all-time when facing elimination. The team has never staved off elimination at home. Florida is 0-5 all-time when facing elimination at home.

Blades coach Gerry Fleming doesn’t want to hear those statistics. He said his team can win this series if it gets back to the up-tempo style it displayed in Game 5’s first period when Florida outscored Dayton 2-0.

“That’s the way we have to be successful,” Fleming said. “It’s a different team (coming home). We can win two games.”

Florida has proven it’s a better team at home. The Blades, who expect a crowd of 5,000 Thursday, is 5-2 at home and 4-3 on the road during the postseason.

Despite the fact that his club has the momentum, Dayton captain Greg Labenski knows he will see a different Blades team Thursday.

“They outworked us for much of (Game 5),” Labenski said. “We really haven’t put three periods together. They were doing things right.

“Thursday is going to be a tough game. They are going to be ready. We have respect for them. They won the division. They are a great team with skilled forwards, great speed. Whoever puts a little more effort will come out on top.”

The American Conference champion will play the Idaho Steelheads in the Kelly Cup Finals. If Florida ends up beating Dayton, the Blades will have home-ice over Idaho.

According to an ECHL release Wednesday, Florida would host Idaho in Games 1 and 2 on May 23 and 26. Games 3 and 4 would be played at Idaho’s Qwest Arena on May 30 and June 1 with Game 5, if necessary, scheduled for June 2.

— Mike Bennett contributed to this report.