By Angela Busch
Naples Daily News
ESTERO, Fla. – Four hours — 15 minutes — and it all came down to one final goal.
After three periods and two scoreless overtime periods, Dayton defenseman Brad Farynuk (pictured) put an end to the Blades’ longest game of the playoffs with a close-range goal just one minute and 23 seconds into the third overtime to give Dayton a 4-3 win Tuesday night at Germain Arena in Game 1 of the American Conference Finals.
Blades forward Vince Bellissimo had tied the score at 3-3 with just two minutes remaining in the third period to give Florida a chance in overtime.
“We came out a little slow in the beginning … but we fought back well,” Blades defenseman Ernie Hartlieb said after the game. “It’s obviously disappointing to play almost two hockey games in a row and end up losing.”
Tuesday night was the Blades’ second overtime game in a row, and also just their second throughout this year’s playoffs. Florida beat Texas 4-3 in overtime on Friday night at Germain Arena to win the South Division Finals and advance to the American Conference Finals against Dayton.
“Maybe we underestimated them a little bit,” forward Dustin Johner said. “But now both teams are on the same page, and I think we’ll come out strong on Thursday and have a good chance to take Game 2 from them.”
Dayton and Florida will play Game 2 of the seven-game series on Thursday night at 7:30 in Germain Arena. The winner of this series will face either the Alaska Aces or the Idaho Steelheads in the Kelly Cup Finals. Idaho led 1-0 in that series at press time.
Florida dominated the overtime periods — holding the puck in its offensive zone and getting 25 shots. But the Blades weren’t able to score due to the stellar goaltending of Dayton’s Adam Berkhoel. The ECHL Goalkeeper of the Year, and Gwinnett’s keeper last year when the Gladiators beat the Blades in the South Division Finals, had 59 saves.
“He’s the catalyst of their team,” Hartlieb said of Berkhoel.
Early in the game, Dayton seemed to impose its defensive, slug-it-out style onto the Blades — who didn’t establish their high-octane offense until late in the second period. Dayton scored three goals and outshot Florida 19-9 in the second period, dominating the ice and allowing almost no rebound chances.
The Blades’ Derek Damon finally broke through with less than two minutes left in the period to score Florida’s first goal on one of the few rebounds Dayton allowed. The momentum from his goal carried into the next period, as the Blades came back to dominate the third period just as thoroughly as Dayton had in the second. Florida collected 17 shots to the Bombers’ seven. Brad Zancanaro scored on a long shot to the left of the goal on a power play, just three minutes into the period.
Then, with the Blades desperate to tie the score and just two minutes left on the clock, Bellissimo found the back of the net to score his eighth playoff goal. He had been on the ice for most of the period, and his teammates seemed to be waiting for him to come through, after missing a few chances earlier. Bellissimo has been the Blades’ go-to scorer throughout the playoffs, especially with forward Reggie Berg out due to injury, and he fulfilled that role yet again Tuesday night.
Both teams will have today to regroup and re-hydrate after Tuesday’s marathon game. Johner said lots of people on the team were having problems with dehydration, especially during the second overtime, so it’ll be important to make sure everyone’s healthy for Thursday night’s game.
“(The off day) is big,” Johner said. “Maybe we’ll sleep in a little, talk it out, and get ready to come back strong on Thursday.”