By Ed Reed
ESTERO, Fla. – The Florida Everblades’ season comes down to this: If they win their last two home games they will be 2005 ECHL Kelly Cup champions. Lose once, and they watch the Trenton Titans celebrate a league title in Estero.
The Blades and Titans will play for the sixth time at 7:30 on Wednesday before an expected Germain Arena capacity crowd with Trenton (N.J.) ahead in the best-of-7 series 3-2.
“It’s going to come down to will,” Florida coach Gerry Fleming said. “You have to show that you want it more. Prove that you want it more.”
That the series has gotten this far speaks to the Blades’ resiliency. Florida dropped the first two games of the series at home, 7-0 and 2-1, and was six minutes away from being down 3-0 in the first of three games played in Trenton. But the Blades rallied from a 4-2 third-period deficit to win 5-4 in overtime and then rallied from a 3-1 second-period deficit to win Game 4, 6-3.
Trenton turned the tables on Florida in Game 5, coming back from a 2-0 third-period hole to win 5-2 and move to within one game of the league crown.
“Yeah, you know you only need one more win, but that’s the hardest win to get,” Trenton goalie Andrew Allen said Monday night. “They’re going to be tough at home. The place is going to be rocking down there, and we have to come out, play hard, play 60 minutes and hopefully we can get it done, but we can’t look too far ahead.”
The Blades still had a bitter taste in their mouths Tuesday, knowing they were so close to sweeping three games in Trenton. Florida dominated the first two periods, outshooting the Titans 27-15 in that span and skating circles around them, that victory seemed almost assured. Now they must sweep a pair at home, where they have not beaten the Titans yet, to claim the first league title in the franchise’s seven-year history.
“The guys are ready to go,” Fleming said. “They’re upbeat. You can’t dwell on (Monday) night’s game. You have to move on.”
The Blades point to the fact they lost those first two home games and were able to respond then as a sign this team will not give up easily.
“We’re excited to be at home,” Florida defenseman Matt Pagnutti said. “We were down 2-0 (in the series). Our goal was to get home. It’s something to look forward to. It’s going to be a packed house, there’s going to be a lot of energy in that building, and I know as a team we’re going to come with a lot of energy as well.
“I guess you could say if everyone won their home games it would still be the same thing it is right now, 3-2 for Trenton. We’re at home, and that’s where we want to be.”
Trenton has been down this road before. The Titans led the Alaska Aces three games to two in their National Conference Finals series and needed just one road win in two games in Anchorage to reach the league finals. Alaska won Game 6 in overtime, 2-1, but Trenton bounced back to win Game 7 in front of a packed and delirious Alaska crowd, 2-0.
The Titans already won the first two games of the series at Germain Arena and see no reason why they can’t win one more in Florida.
“You have to win on the road to win in the playoffs, and I think we know we can win there,” Allen said. “We know the building now, but at the same time we know that Game 2 is more indicative of how it’s going to go down there. It’s going to be good hockey, but we have the confidence as we know we can win.”
Florida has renewed confidence as well. The Blades were the first team in the playoffs to win two straight against the Titans. Why couldn’t they do that again?
“When we were down 2-0 (in the series) right off the hop there and coming here to play three, where they hadn’t lost two straight all (playoff) year, it’s a tough spot to be in,” Florida defenseman Tim O’Connell said after Monday night’s game. “Everybody had us pretty much dead at that point anyway. No one thought we’d be coming home and now we’re coming home. Let’s play two games.”