Blades draw first blood, battle from behind for 5-3 win
ESTERO, FL - The Florida Everblades saw their Game 1 match-up with the Gwinnett Gladiators go through peaks and valleys before finishing with a 5-3 win to grab the early series lead in front of a raucous crowd of 4,166 at Germain Arena.
A pair of Everblades goals in the final minute and forty seconds of the second period capped off a wild middle frame that saw the Gladiators score three times on the power play.
At the start of the opening game of the best-of-seven series, it was all Everblades as they staked themselves to a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission. Doug O'Brien got the scoring started with a 5-on-3 power play goal on a quick shot from the right circle that found its way past Gwinnett goaltender Joe Fallon at 5:53. Peter Metcalf, who set O'Brien up with a good cross ice pass, notched one assist and Andrew Sweetland logged the second helper.
After Gwinnett killed off another 5-on-3 Everblades power play just past the midpoint of the frame, the Everblades struck with a late goal by Ross Carlson at 17:28. O'Brien and Mathieu Roy set up the marker that gave the Everblades the two-goal advantage after one period.
Everything changed in the second period however as Gwinnett ripped off three straight power play goals in the first 14 minutes of the frame to grab a 3-2 lead. Tom Zanoski notched the first of the man-advantage goals at 2:20 when he stuffed a shot past Everblades net-minder David Leggio at the right post.
Zanoski then assisted on Brandon Kalenicki's power play goal at 12:40 at the left post. Zanoski fed a pass across the goal mouth from the right side of the cease to Kalenicki who slapped home the pass to tie the score at two.
Less than 90 seconds later Pat Bateman wristed a shot from the left circle between the pads of Leggio for a 5-on-3 goal at 14:08 giving Gwinnett their first lead of the night.
The momentum shifted back to the Everblades late in the frame. The Everblades evened the score back up with 1:22 remaining in the period when Dominic D'Amour's shot from the blue line was deflected home by Jacob Micflikier at the top of the crease. Ernie Hartlieb also chipped in an assist on the marker.
Seeming like the team's would go to the locker room tied 3-3, Mark Lee sent the crowd into a frenzy when he scored on a wrap-around with less than a second remaining on the clock. With five seconds left in the period O'Brien worked the puck free from the right corner to Lee behind the Gwinnett goal. Lee then swung out at the right post where he found just enough room to sneak it past Fallon and across the goal line just before the horn sounded to end the period. Hartlieb also helped out with his second assist on the night.
Holding the one-goal lead going into the third period, the Everblades also had to hold off a strong wave of pressure by the Gladiators at the start of the frame. But the Everblades weathered the storm, holding Gwinnett to just two shots over the first 14 minutes of the period.
Florida collected the insurance they were looking for midway through the period when Sweetland notched the Everblades' second power play goal at 9:58 after scooping up a rebound by Fallon at the right post and dunking it home. Carlson set up Jonathan Paiement with a perfect drop pass to start the play. Fallon stopped Paiement's slap shot, but couldn't control the puck to allow Sweetland to pounce.
Over the closing moments, the Gladiators came strong at the Everblades, but Florida kept Gwinnett at bay, including killing off two penalties in the final minutes to maintain the lead.
In goal Leggio picked up the win by stopping 16 of 19 shots, while Fallon took the loss by allowing the five goals on 26 shots.
On the power play, the Everblades finished the night 2-of-8, while the Gladiators closed out the game 3-of-9.
BEWARE OF THE BITE! Action You Can Sink Your Teeth Into! Individual tickets to Kelly Cup Playoff games "A" & "B" are on sale now! Visit the Germain Arena Box Office M-F from 10-6 to purchase tickets, or order online at www.ticketmaster.com. Visit www.floridaeverblades.com and www.germainarena.com or call 239-948-PUCK for more information on group ticket packages, pricing and upcoming Germain Arena events.
The Everblades return to action on Saturday, April 11 when they host the Gwinnett Gladiators at 7:30 p.m. in Game 2 of the South Division semi-finals from Germain Arena.
3 Stars: 1 - Doug O'Brien - FLA 2 - Jacob Micflikier - FLA 3 - Tom Zanoksi - GWI
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