By Craig Handel
ESTERO, Fla. – There were fights, five-on-three power plays and a goal just before the second-period horn sounded.
Welcome to the ECHL Kelly Cup Playoffs.
But it had a familiar result for the Florida Everblades – a 5-3 victory over the Gwinnett Gladiators in Game 1 of their ECHL playoff series Friday night at Germain Arena in front of 4,166. The Brabham Cup winning Everblades are 9-0-0-1 in their last 11 games and 13-0-1 in their last 14 home games.
It was a night in which defenseman Doug O’Brien was the scoring star, with one goal and two assists, while Florida’s leading scorer, Kevin Baker, was the enforcer (six finished checks, two penalties).
“Bakes has been such a big scorer for us, but we have a lot of guys who can score,” O’Brien said. “Tonight it was me. Tomorrow it will be somebody else.”
While Everblades coach Malcolm Cameron said he likes Baker’s hard-nosed play, he’d prefer that Baker – and Peter Metcalf – stay on the ice. Their penalties helped Gwinnett rally from a 2-0 deficit with three power-plays goals to go up 3-2.
“We don’t need our best players in the penalty box,” Cameron said. “There’s a fine line on emotion. You want to play on edge, not over the edge. We let them retaliate in the first period and they did the same thing to us. You can’t play that way.”
Florida scored twice in the last 1:22 of the second period – including forward Mark Lee‘s goal with one second left- to regain the lead at 4-3.
Earlier in the day, Cameron said the Everblades “would be ready, at the drop of the puck.”
He was right.
After forcing penalties, the Everblades got so deep on the power play that Metcalf and O’Brien were in the circles. O’Brien took Metcalf’s pass and rifled a shot into the net for 1-0 lead with 14:07 left in the period.
The second period saw Everblades spend more than half the time in the penalty box.
Gwinnett cut the deficit to 2-1, Baker was whistled for a high stick – which is a double minor – and Metcalf argued with officials.
After right wing Brandon Kaleniecki tied the game with 7:20 left in the second, Metcalf was whistled for roughing, putting the Everblades two men down. Just 1:28 later, Jean-Claude Sawyer put the Gladiators up 3-2.
But Florida wasn’t done. Just before the horn sounded, Lee stuffed home a shot.
“I was right there,” Micflikier said. “I thought he was going to pass it to me. He had a great awareness of how much time was left.”
Andrew Sweetland‘s goal in the third period gave Florida the insurance goal it needed.