By Chris Umpierre
ESTERO, Fla. – After a solid but not great regular season, the Florida Everblades’ penalty-kill unit has taken its game to a new level in the postseason.
The Blades lead the ECHL Kelly Cup Playoffs by killing 96.9 percent of power plays and opponents are just 2-for-65 on the power play against Florida through the team’s first nine postseason games.
The Blades’ penalty-kill unit overwhelmed Texas in the South Division Finals. The Wildcatters, who had the fourth-best power play in the 25-team league during the regular season, were just 1-for-45 on the man-advantage in the series. That means that Texas had converted just 2.2 percent of its power plays, a significant departure from the 18.8 percent it enjoyed during the regular season.
And the Wildcatters were fortunate to score their lone power-play goal. The tally came when Blades goalie Craig Kowalski was getting ready to leave the ice to be replaced by an extra skater late in Game 4.
A 5-foot-5, in-your-face, gritty forward named Brad Zancanaro (pictured) has spearheaded Florida’s penalty kill, which finished the regular season ranked 13th. Zancanaro plays at the top of the penalty kill and often uses his speed to steal or deflect passes in the neutral zone.
Blades forwards Vince Bellissimo and Derek Damon, and defenseman Brett Peterson have also played important roles in the penalty kill. The goalie is often referred to as the team’s “best penalty-killer” and Kowalski has definitely lived up to the task.Florida’s power play also performed well in the South Division Finals. The Blades converted 19.5 percent (8 of 41) of their power plays. That rate figures to get better with the recent addition of defensemen Mike Card and Chris Lee. Two skilled offensive players, Card and Lee can run the point on the power play.
“It should be pretty exciting,” Lee said of playing with Card. The two played together for the first time in Game 5. “He’s a smart player too. He’s good in his own zone. He’s not just an offensive guy.”