By Craig Handel
ESTERO, Fla. – As periods in the games against the Gwinnett Gladiators wound down, Florida Everblades defenseman Peter Metcalf noticed.
In the final minute, the Gladiators kept looking up.
“They all were just watching the clock,” Metcalf said. “They were spending more time watching the clock tick, tick down.”
Can you blame them? In all five games of Gwinnett’s ECHL first-round playoff series against Florida, an Everblades player scored in the last one minute, 22 seconds of at least one of the periods. In Game 2, two Florida players scored in the final seconds.
“I have friends on the team and they said, ‘Holy crap, in the last five minutes, you guys are unbelievable,’ ” Florida forward Mark Lee said. “It sticks in your head when it’s a common occurrence.”
The Everblades will see if they have more late-period magic when the face the South Carolina Stingrays tonight in Game 1 of their second-round Kelly Cup Series.
Florida’s streak actually extends to the last two games of the regular season, when forward Jacob Micflikier scored with one second left in the second period and defenseman Doug O’Brien scored with five seconds remaining in the second against Mississippi.
Since then, Lee, Micflikier, forward Kevin Baker, Metcalf, forward Ross Carlson and forward Yannick Tifu scored in the final seconds of periods. Micflikier and Lee turned a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 lead in Game 1 against Gwinnett. Baker and Metcalf sent games into overtime with their goals. Carlson’s empty-net goal wrapped up a 4-2 win. Tifu’s goal, as he was falling down, came with 24 seconds left in the game and helped the Everblades win the series 4-1.
“I was too busy celebrating,” said Carlson, when asked if he looked at Gwinnett’s reaction after all the late goals. “But on that last goal with 24 seconds, I saw their guys’ heads (went down). Body language can tell a lot.”
Florida players can’t recall being on a team that has scored this late, this often.
Coach Malcolm Cameron said, “Never. … Never.”
But he thinks his players’ constant offensive pressure played a big role in those backbreaking tallies.
“It’s a huge impact,” he said. “We’ve had plenty of chances. Our third periods have been phenomenal. We outshot Gwinnett by a ridiculous amount but they got great goaltending and renewed their commitment on the defensive end.
“It’s just a wear-down process. We came wave after wave.”
Players said that with so many game breakers on the team, sooner or later, goals are going to come.
“That shows how much firepower we have,” Carlson said. “We have three great lines. We have people sitting out who have 20 goals this year. We are pretty deep.”
Of Florida’s 16 playoff goals, six came in the last 1:22 of a period. That’s just under 40 percent. Carlson, Lee and Metcalf said waiting that long is not a habit they want to get into. Still, it’s nice knowing that, when the seconds wind down, they’ve built quite a history.
“We’ve pressed pretty hard and there’s a feeling of desperation, that we need to tie the game up,” Lee said. “We’re confident we can score goals at that time and keep pushing and playing the way we’re playing.
“It’s always great to come back in a game, no matter how far behind we are.”
Or how little time is left on the clock.