By Craig Handel
ESTERO, Fla. – The Florida Everblades will have to overcome history as well as the South Carolina Stingrays if they are to advance in the Kelly Cup Playoffs.
South Carolina defenseman Zach Tarkir scored with 11:26 left in overtime for a 2-1 opening win over the Everblades in Round 2 of the ECHL Southern Division playoffs on Friday at Germain Arena before 4,111 fans.
In their 11-year history, the Everblades never have won a playoff series in which they lost their first game.
“It’s one game in the series,” Florida coach Malcolm Cameron said. “I would’ve said the same thing if we won. You have to win four. We’ll come back with our hard hats and go to work.”
“I think it’s gonna be like this for seven games,” Boutin said.
A couple of minutes later, Stingrays forward Trent Campbell opted not to shoot, then found Tarkir in the middle of the circles for his game-winning shot.
“I popped in the slot and got a stick on it,” Tarkir said. “I wasn’t sure if it actually went in at first. It came out so fast.”
Everblades goalie David Leggio said it glanced off his left hip. “I thought I saved it,” he said.
Before the series, players and coaches didn’t think games would be high-scoring, despite their high-scoring regular seasons and South Carolina’s 26 goals in a 4-2 first-round series win over Charlotte.
For Game 1, at least, they were right.
Scoring chances were limited. While players had trouble handling the puck, the checking was solid.
“There was not a whole bunch of room to move out there,” South Carolina coach Jared Bednar said. “It was pretty tight. It didn’t look like either team had much in transition.”
Florida entered the third period with a 5-on-3 advantage for the first 1:13.
While the Everblades didn’t capitalize on that, they did score on the 5-on-4 when Hartlieb redirected Peter Metcalf‘s shot into the net to tie the game at 1-1 with 18:40 left in the period.
“It went off my stick, the defenseman and into the net,” Hartlieb said.
Florida goaltender David Leggio preserved the tie with two great saves at the 12-minute mark. The Everblades had a couple of good scoring chances in the third but also were denied.
“It (stinks) to lose in overtime,” Hartlieb said.
Boutin stopped 31 of the 32 shots he faced.
Through two periods, the Everblades had 20 shots on goal but generated little offense.
Florida, which has scored goals in the final minute in seven straight games, gave up one this time.
With 49 seconds left in the first period, Scherer sneaked the puck in just inside the right post. Leggio was visibly upset after giving up that goal.
In the second period, the Everblades had to kill back-to-back penalties, including a 5-on-3 for about 40 seconds. They also had to take a sigh of relief after Leggio, who appeared to take a puck in the throat. His backup, Adrien Lemay, hasn’t played in a pro hockey game.
Game 2 is 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Germain Arena.