By Craig Handel
ESTERO, Fla. – Moments after Florida held on to beat South Carolina 4-3 in Game 2 after it nearly squandered a 4-1 lead, Everblades president and general manager Craig Brush noted how hard it is to play with a three-goal lead.
How prophetic that became eight days later.
After blowing a 3-0 lead in a 4-3 loss to the Stingrays on Sunday, Florida trails the best-of-7 series 3-2 and will need to win tonight and Wednesday or its season will end again without a Kelly Cup.
“It’s a tough one,” Everblades veteran forward Ernie Hartlieb said. “We’ve played in a lot of playoff games the last four, five years. To get up like that and end up losing in the last minute is really tough.
“You have to look past it and move on and win to force a Game 7. That’s our mentality.”
Goaltender David Leggio added, “I think we’ll come out like our lives depend on it. You’ll see that tomorrow.”
Defenseman Brad Zanon said, “There’s no other option.”
Florida coach Malcolm Cameron said his team has been resilient all season, and he doesn’t expect that to change.
“After the (Game 1) overtime loss, we came back and responded with a helluva game in Game 2,” he said. “After Game 3, we preserved and responded in Game 4.”
For the fifth straight time in this series, the outcome was decided by one goal. Florida looked like it was on its way to breaking that trend when it jumped out to a 2-0 first-period lead. When the Everblades weathered the storm and then went up 3-0 midway through the second, it looked like they had taken the Stingrays’ best shot.
“But we changed the way we played,” Cameron said.
“We played passive. We were on them, banging them, getting the puck deep. But we stopped playing our style of hockey. In the regular season, you can get away with that.”
Cameron said he remains confident because South Carolina has to close out the Everblades at Germain Arena.
“It’s important for our fans to know we battled 71 games so we could have the best record and play in front of our fans,” he said.
– An ECHL official said a league official is speaking to the Everblades after Cameron didn’t speak to the media and barred his players from speaking as well Sunday after his team’s 4-3 loss to South Carolina.
League policy states that after the game ends and referees have left the ice, there is a 10-minute cooling-off period. Players and coaches then must be accessible to the media.
As of 6 p.m. Monday, Cameron said he hadn’t heard from the ECHL. He added that players would be available after today’s game. As for the silence on Sunday, he said, “I didn’t want anything negative portrayed in the media. After an emotional game like that, I didn’t want them to say something that hadn’t been thought through. I didn’t want to put players in that position.”
Brush, who arrived in Southwest Florida late Monday afternoon after driving from North Charleston, S.C., said the ECHL hadn’t contacted him. He wanted to get an understanding of everything before he commented.