By Angela Busch
Naples Daily News
FAIRBORN, Ohio — If there was ever a time for the Florida Everblades to be fired up about a game, this is it.
The Blades have come out sluggish in a majority of their games against Dayton this series, but approaching Tuesday night’s Game 5 — at 7 p.m. in Wright State University’s Nutter Center — a slow start could spell doom for the Everblades, who are tied 2-2 with Dayton in the best-of-seven American Conference Finals.
“We’ve just gotta put a couple games together,” veteran defenseman Ernie Hartlieb (pictured) said. “It’s a best-of-three series now.”
The winner of the Dayton/Florida series will play either Alaska or Idaho in the Kelly Cup Finals. Idaho currently leads the National Conference Finals 3-1, with Game 5 also on Tuesday in Boise, Idaho.
Game 6 of the American Conference Finals will be back at Germain Arena on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. A Game 7, if needed, will be Friday at Germain at the same time.
It has been a struggle for Florida to put strings of wins together throughout the past two rounds of the playoffs. Against Dayton, the Blades needed a third-period comeback to force overtime in Game 1, and after reaching triple OT, lost 4-3 in Germain Arena. The storyline was somewhat similar in Game 2, after Dayton jumped to a 2-1 lead in the first period. But that time the Blades were able to come back all the way and won 5-2.
It was Florida who jumped to a first-period lead in Game 3, and that lead held for a 4-3 Blades win — giving them a 2-1 advantage and a momentum boost after two wins in a row.
As typical in lengthy seven-game series, though, the Blades couldn’t hold that momentum boost in Game 4, seeming to almost sleepwalk through the first couple periods and falling 3-1 on Sunday night in Ohio.
Coach Gerry Fleming summed up the playoffs with a few words after Sunday’s game — words that were echoed by a few players.
“You don’t get too high, you don’t get too low,” he said.
Fitting, given that the Texas/Florida series for the South Division Finals mirrored Florida’s series against Dayton. First, Florida won a 5-0 blowout. Then, Texas did the same thing in Game 2. Game 3 saw the Blades come back for a 5-2 win in Texas, the Wildcatters won 3-1 in Game 4 (sounds very familiar), and then in that series, Florida closed with Games 5 and 6.
So it can be done, but it’s clear Tuesday’s game is as close to decisive as it gets for the Blades and the Bombers, with at least two games left to play.
In the past 19 years of Kelly Cup playoffs, the winners of Game 5 have won the series 21 of 28 times (75 percent) when the series goes six or seven games. There have been only 11 Game 7s.
It’s probably time for the Blades to digest forward David Brine‘s words, said after Sunday’s 3-1 defeat.
“There’s no excuse for that,” Brine said of his team’s sluggish starts in past playoff games. “We need to strive for consistency.”