By Chris Umpierre
ESTERO, Fla. – A day after playing the longest game in the franchise’s nine-year history, the Florida Everblades called off practice and gathered for a team meeting. Most of the players looked bleary-eyed and fatigued.
The Dayton Bombers were feeling the same after a triple-overtime game that didn’t end until 11:45 p.m. Tuesday.
Look for Florida and Dayton to be somewhat drained when the teams meet again for Thursday’s Game 2 of the best-of-7 American Conference Finals at Germain Arena. Dayton registered the 4-3 victory in Game 1 in what was just the ninth triple overtime playoff game in the 19-year history of the ECHL.
Tuesday’s game was the ninth-longest game in ECHL history as the teams played 101 minutes, 23 seconds. The longest game was a 121:24 affair between Greenville and Louisiana on May 5, 2000.
Florida has played 177 minutes — almost the length of three regulation games — in its last two contests.
“(Exhaustion) is definitely going to be a factor. After playing a game like that you can’t help but be exhausted,” Blades defenseman Chris Lee said. “We have a day in between, which is fortunate. That day is going to be key for the guys.”
This marks the first time Florida has trailed in a series in this postseason. The Blades have never won a series after losing the first game. Florida is 0-5 all-time in those situations.
Blades veteran Brent McDonald (pictured) said Thursday’s game is a “must win.”
“(Tuesday) was a very, very heartbreaking loss,” McDonald said. “But we’ll learn from this. We didn’t have our best second period, and we regrouped and played well in the third period. We’ll just have to bring that same effort Thursday.”
Florida outshot the Bombers 42-19 in the third period and the three overtimes. Dayton goalie Adam Berkhoel, however, made several NHL-caliber saves to keep his club in the game until it scored the game-winner 1:23 into the third overtime.
“We just weren’t in the right frame of mind going into this series,” Blades general manager Craig Brush said. “I don’t think guys understood that this is the next step. And we’re facing a real good goalie. Texas’ goalies were good but they’re not like (Berkhoel).”
Vince Bellissimo, Florida’s leading scorer, said he’ll play Thursday. He suffered some major cramps and had to leave Tuesday’s game in the second overtime to get an IV. He was about to return to the ice when Dayton scored the game winner.
“I’ve never had that happen to me before,” Bellissimo said.
Blades goalie Craig Kowalski, who has started every playoff game for the team, will start Thursday despite Tuesday’s long contest. Florida coach Gerry Fleming said he hasn’t given any thought about starting backup goalie David Shantz.
Fleming bristled when asked if Thursday is a “must-win” game.
“It’s a big game but I don’t want to put a must-win tag on that,” he said. “The last I looked this wasn’t a best-of-3 series.”