By Chris Umpierre
The Florida Everblades have bounced back from defeats throughout the postseason. The Blades are 3-0 following playoff losses and haven’t lost back-to-back games since March 30-31.
They must bounce back from defeat again Tuesday — or they’ll find themselves in a serious rut.
Florida is tied at two games apiece with the Dayton Bombers in the ECHL American Conference Finals. The winner of Tuesday’s Game 5 in Dayton, Ohio, will have a stranglehold on the best-of-7 series. Tuesday’s victor can capture the series with a win in Game 6, which will be Thursday at Germain Arena. Game 7, if necessary, would be Friday at Germain.
Despite’s Sunday’s 3-1 defeat in Game 4, Florida is feeling confident because it was faced with the exact situation in its previous playoff series. Tied two games apiece with Texas, the Blades posted a 4-2 road victory in Game 5 and then closed out the series in Game 6 at Germain.
“There shouldn’t be any heads held down,” Florida assistant captain Ernie Hartlieb said. “We’re feeling confident. We’re feeling good. We made a couple switches to our systems to adapt to the way they’re playing. We’re going to go out there, have some fun and try to get a big win.”
Hartlieb admitted that playing at the Nutter Center has been challenging. He said he’s never seen a professional hockey rink in such poor shape.
Saturday’s Game 3 at the Nutter Center was delayed for 57 minutes because of unsafe ice conditions. The game was stopped four times in the first period as officials patched bare spots with handfuls of snow.
There weren’t any delays in Game 4, but Florida still isn’t pleased with the conditions.
“It’s just a disgrace,” Hartlieb said. “Before (Game 3), there were 3 to 4 inches of cement in the corner. The boards are all crooked. There are some wild bounces off those boards. Dayton is used to playing with them. We just need to adapt and learn to play through it so we can come back to our nice facility.”
Florida feels it played a strong third period — the Blades outshot Dayton 13-8 — in Game 4 and hopes to carry that over to Tuesday.
“We haven’t played a full 60 minutes yet,” Blades goalie Craig Kowalski said. “If we do that, we’ll be in good shape.”
In addition to learning Dayton’s boards and ice, the Blades must figure out a way to fire more shots on goal. The team had just 14 shots — two in the third period — in Game 3. Florida had just 11 shots through two periods in Game 4 before finishing with 24.
“They’re doing a good job of trapping us and holding the line,” Hartlieb said. “I don’t think it’s anything systems-wide that we can do. It’s just about working harder and focusing on getting to the net.”
ECHL history says that Game 5 in a seven-game series is the most critical. The winners of Game 5 have won 35 of the 42 seven-game series (83.3 percent) in ECHL history. In 2007, there have been six Game 5s and the team that has won that contest has won the series four times.
The American Conference Finals winner will likely play the Idaho Steelheads in the Kelly Cup Finals. Idaho beat Alaska 7-2 late Sunday night and now has a three-games-to-one lead in the best-of-7 National Conference Finals. Game 5 in that series will be Tuesday in Idaho.