By Chris Umpierre
ESTERO, Fla. – The Florida Everblades looked like they were still feeling the effects of Tuesday’s triple-overtime game during the first period Thursday. They seemed a step slow for loose pucks, battles along the boards and face-offs.
The coaching staff and team veterans riled up the team during the first intermission, stressing the game’s significance, and voila … Florida played like a different team the rest of the way.
Thanks to three second-period goals, Florida beat Dayton 5-3 in Game 2 of the ECHL American Conference Finals in front of 4,523 at Germain Arena. The best-of-7 series is tied 1-1 and will shift to Dayton, Ohio, for games Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday. Games 6 and 7, if necessary, will be Thursday, May 17, and Friday, May 18, at Germain.
Thursday’s victory was clutch because a defeat would have put the Blades in a historically bad position.
Only three ECHL teams have rallied back to win a seven-game series after losing the first two games at home.
“We knew it was important to win this game. We had to have it. It was a must-win game,” said Florida defenseman Steve Czech, who added he was OK after being cross-checked in the back of the head by Dayton’s Lane Manson. “We had a two-minute lapse on the 4-on-4 (in the first period) but that was it.”
Two days after registering a franchise-high 62 shots, Florida flirted with setting a season-high for fewest shots. Dayton outshot Florida 36-20. The Blades, whose season low for shots is 17, had just 13 shots through two periods but they were quality attempts.
Florida scored four goals on its first 11 shots of the game, beating a goalie who looked invincible during Tuesday’s triple-overtime affair. Dayton goalie Adam Berkhoel, who made 59 saves in Game 1, stopped just 15 of 20 shots Thursday.
“Sometimes you get lucky bounces,” said Blades forward Brad Parsons, who had a goal and two assists. “We were crashing the net. A goalie can’t save his team every night.”
Parsons said the team learned Berkhoel’s weaknesses Tuesday and exploited them.
“It’s important to get traffic in front of him,” Blades coach Gerry Fleming said. “Get him moving laterally. Make him work. We didn’t have many shots on net but I thought the ones we did have were quality shots.”
Czech had another reason for why Berkhoel struggled: “Goalies are weird.”
Florida trailed 2-1 after the first period but took control of the game by scoring three consecutive goals in the second period to take a 4-2 lead into the third stanza. Blades forward Dustin Johner started the scoring spree with a rebound goal from outside the crease at 2:41 of the second period.
With the crowd rocking the building, Dayton coach Don MacAdam was forced to call a timeout to settle things down. Berkhoel, who allowed four goals on just 13 shots through two periods, yelled at his teammates during the timeout.
Czech said some of the team’s veterans fired up the squad during the first intermission. Dayton outshot Florida 15-6 after the first 20 minutes.
“We knew we had to take it to them,” Czech said. “We were losing races, losing battles along the boards. If we want to win this series and the Kelly Cup we have to go as hard as we can. No shifts off.”