By Andy Kent
Naples Daily News
ESTERO, Fla. – Steve Saviano sure has a flair for the dramatic.
The diminutive rookie forward for the Florida Everblades buried his first goal of the playoffs 16 seconds into overtime to lift Florida to a 4-3 victory over the Greenville Grrrowl on Monday night at Germain Arena.
The win gives the Blades a two games-to-none lead in the ECHL’s best-of-five American Conference semifinals, with Game 3 Tuesday at 7:05 up in Greenville, S.C., at the Bi-Lo Center. It was Florida’s second overtime win of the postseason.
Saviano, who hadn’t played since injuring his shoulder nine days ago, picked up the loose puck in the neutral zone and fired a slapshot from the high slot. Grrrowl goaltender Mike Brodeur never saw it and the goal sent the 5,468 fans into a frenzy.
“It was pretty fast. I just cut across the middle and I saw the defenseman backed up into the high slot and give me the opportunity to get a lot of wood on the shot,” Saviano said. “I just shot it as hard as I could and it went right in. I was ready to jump in the stands there I was so happy, but my teammates were all there for me, it was a good feeling.”
Brodeur had replaced starter Mike Morrison late in the first period after the Everblades had taken a 2-1 lead on Brad Church’s breakaway goal. Morrison pulled a muscle in his leg after Florida’s first goal by Kris Vernarsky according to Grrrowl head coach John Marks, and tried to tough it out.
Marks, who regretted not pulling Morrison sooner, agreed with Saviano as to why the scoring chance became such a good one in overtime.
“The guy’s good but we gave him way too much room,” he said. “Not to take anything away from him — I think it actually went off one of our sticks — but normally whoever gets the most shots in overtime wins and they got the first shot.”
The line of Saviano, David Lundbohm and Paul Cabana was on fire from late in the second period on and almost ended the game twice in regulation. With about three minutes left, Saviano kicked the puck free along the boards on the left wing, skated in and wristed a shot on net that Brodeur kicked right to Cabana, but Cabana’s shot hit Brodeur in the chest.
And with under 12 seconds left, Saviano and Lundbohm had a 2-on-1 but Saviano’s cross-ice pass got caught in Lundbohm’s skates and he couldn’t get a shot off.
“Honestly, Lundy and I came into the intermission there before the overtime and told each other we wanted to make up for that one,” Saviano said. “I didn’t expect to come back and score such a dramatic goal, but I worked hard to get healthy and we wanted this one.”
It was a very slow and inauspicious start to the game as the two teams combined for three shots almost midway into the first period.
But at the 9:45 mark, Grrrowl defenseman Scott Balan caught Florida sleeping with a shorthanded goal past Everblades goalie Tyler MacKay off an assist from Sam Paolini to break the scoreless tie.
He was open and had the time to drift across the slot into the right circle before firing the shot between MacKay’s legs because Everblades defenseman Ryan Brindley was back up ice near Florida’s bench jostling with Ferguson and was not covering his end of the ice.
The tide turned quickly with just under three minutes left when Vernarsky tied the game at the 17:03 mark with a solid individual effort. He played a little give-and-go with Keith Anderson behind the Grrrowl net, then skated out from behind and wristed a backhander barely inside the far post past.
Then 21 seconds later, Church got loose on a breakaway at the blue line after taking an outlet pass from Simon Tremblay and beat Morrison with a backhander to the same side as Vernarsky to make it a 2-1 hockey game going into the third period. That was it for Morrison and Brodeur came in.
“It’s sure going to be an enjoyable bus ride,” Fleming said. “But they’re going to come out the same way as they did tonight and we’ve got to come out and play physical and keep playing our game.”
A mental mistake by Tim O’Connell as the Grrrowl rushed up the ice proved costly when he pinched too high and allowed Martin St. Pierre to get by him and create a 2-on-1. St. Pierre sent a cross-ice pass to Balan in the left circle, who beat MacKay high glove side for the tying goal at the 10:14 mark.
Cabana’s goal with nine seconds left in the second period gave Florida a 3-2 lead heading into the final intermission.
But Greenville wouldn’t go away quietly as Paolini buried a shot past MacKay 51 seconds into the third period off an assist from Ferguson to finish off a 2-on-1. Fleming pulled MacKay at that point and inserted rookie Craig Kowalski. MacKay had allowed three goals on just 12 shots and the crowd got real quiet.
Kowalski stopped all nine shots he faced and didn’t have to make a save in overtime. Fleming said Kowalski will start tonight in Greenville, saying MacKay hasn’t played up to his potential and it was time for a change.