By Andy Kent
Naples Daily News
GREENVILLE, S.C. – Another set of demons was exorcised Tuesday night by the Florida Everblades as they are returning to the ECHL’s final four for the second straight year.
Behind the hottest young line in the Kelly Cup Playoffs, the Everblades managed to complete a three-game sweep of the Greenville Grrrowl with a 2-1 overtime victory in front of 1,642 at the Bi-Lo Center.
It was payback for the Grrrowl ending Florida’s championship dreams twice since 2002. Now the Blades await the winner of the Charlotte-Gwinnett series in the ECHL’s best-of-seven American Conference finals, which will start next week. The Charlotte-Gwinnett series is tied 1-1 with games tonight and Thursday in Charlotte.
“I had a lot of mixed emotions because I had a good time when I played here,” said Everblades defenseman Simon Tremblay (pictured), who won the Kelly Cup with Greenville in 2002. “It’s always nice to come back in the barn and play, and I have some good friends over there in (head coach) John Marks, (assistant coach) Ryan Stewart and (captain) Colin Pepperall. But overall it’s all good.”
Forward Paul Cabana buried the game-winner 3:42 into the extra session, beating Grrrowl goalie Mike Brodeur off an assist from rookie forward Steve Saviano, who scored the overtime game-winner in Game 2 on Monday night. Those two, along with rookie David Lundbohm, are the top three scorers in the postseason for Florida.
Lundbohm scored the tying goal 11:23 into the second period, giving him seven goals in seven playoff games and 11 total points. Saviano now has 10 points (1 goal, 9 assists) and Cabana has nine points (4 goals, 5 assists).
“I definitely felt like a big weight was lifted off my shoulders and when I saw it hit the back of the net it was just an unreal feeling,” said Cabana, who came over from the Reading Royals in a trade at the deadline. “We just seem to work well together. We clicked right away when (head coach) Gerry (Fleming) put us together in the regular season and it’s just kind of gone from there.”
The puck had gone up to Saviano and a Grrrowl defenseman came up with a big hit, allowing the puck to get behind him. Cabana was wide on the left side and saw Brodeur had his glove down and shot it high over top of his glove side, setting off a celebration on the ice that was followed by the traditional line of handshakes between the two teams.
The Grrrowl finished off Florida in Game 5 of the first round of the 2002 playoffs on the same ice, and then knocked out the Everblades the next year in Estero in the wild-card game with a 1-0 victory.
Two games full of fireworks should have led to the third having much of the same, but that wasn’t the case this time. Florida was coming off an emotional 4-3 overtime win at home Monday night that gave it a 2-0 lead in the series, and Greenville did not want to be swept.
Credit referee Joe Ernst with making sure none of the shenanigans from the first two games back in Estero resurfaced. As a result, the teams skated to a 1-1 tie in regulation.
Neither team could find success on the power play, as Florida went 0-for-7 and Greenville 0-for-5.
“Joe did a good job, he really did,” Fleming said. “And I think both teams, when you play back-to-back games home and home, especially when you’re traveling 12 hours, both teams were just kind of waiting for their opportunities and sitting back a little bit more than they normally do.”
Greenville came out with a bit more jump and with a strategy. The Grrrowl wanted to test Everblades rookie goaltender Craig Kowalski early and often, and they did just that, firing nine shots on goal in the first six minutes.
Grrrowl forward David Herring hit paydirt at the 6:43 mark when he took a short pass from Mike Knight in the neutral zone, skated the puck across the blue line on the left side and let loose a slapshot that went off the tip of Kowalski’s glove high underneath the crossbar.
Florida finally got the equalizer at the 11:23 mark as Lundbohm stuffed in the rebound of Tim O’Connell’s slapshot from the slot. Saviano made the centering pass to O’Connell and Brodeur lost sight of where the puck went after making the initial save.
Kowalski matched Brodeur in net, despite this being just the second full game he has played since Jan. 29, when he injured his groin. He stopped all nine shots he saw Monday night when he replaced Tyler MacKay in the third period and turned away 24 of 25 shots Tuesday, coming up with some big saves on the penalty kill.
“I definitely got more of the rust out tonight. Last night I was still pretty rusty,” Kowalski said.