ECHL playoffs: Everblades doing battle with Gladiators, look to take 3-0 series lead in Atlanta

BY MATT ROTHMAN
SPECIAL TO CSI

After two games that featured a total of 68 penalty minutes, including two fights and one serious injury, the Florida Everblades are in Atlanta for Game 3 of their first-round ECHL playoff series with the Gladiators.

The puck drops Thursday night at 7:35. Florida leads the best-of-7 series 2-0 after winning the first two games at Germain Arena.

Late in the third period of Tuesday night’s game at Germain Arena, Florida’s Justin Kea hit Atlanta’s Eric Shand awkwardly along the boards. Shand had to leave the game on a stretcher and was taken to a Southwest Florida hospital. He was released from the hospital and is in Atlanta, though it seems likely he’ll miss the rest of the series, if not the remainder of the postseason.

After his hit on Shand, Kea dropped the gloves with Atlanta’s Tanner Pond.

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“No one wants to see anybody get injured,” Florida coach Brad Ralph said. “We have an extremely tough team so I don’t see them going down that road. They will play us hard. I am certain of that.”

The Everblades won the ECHL’s Brabham Cup as the ECHL’s top team in the regular season with 112 points. Twenty of those points came against Atlanta, with the Everblades winning all 10 meetings between the teams.

Florida takes another impressive streak into Atlanta for Game 3. It hasn’t lost on the Gladiators’ home ice in 19 games. 

Last year, the Everblades were in a different first-round scenario as they dropped Games 1 and 2 at home to Orlando before putting the Solar Bears away in seven. Florida was eliminated by South Carolina in the second round, bowing out in five games.

This year, the Everblades outscored the Gladiators 7-3 over the first two games, with all seven goals coming at even strength. In Game 1, the teams were even at 1-all before Florida broke out with three third-period goals. In Game 2, Florida scored the first two goals, then hung on late as the Gladiators twice cut the lead to one.

‘We didn’t get as many opportunities as we did (in Game 1),” Everblades forward Steven Lorentz said after Tuesday’s game. “I think we only had half the amount of shots … but good teams find ways to win and that’s what we did. Atlanta has some sustained pressure and we were on our heels a bit, but we found a way to win.”

Florida goaltender Martin Ouellette has been superb so far in this series, stopping 47 of 50 shots. The Everblades have killed off 10 of Atlanta’s 11 power-play chances, and they even have a short-handed goal (in Game 1) by John McCarron to show for their efforts.

One area of concern for the Everblades has been on the power play. They went 0 for 6 with the man-advantage in Game 1, then 0 for 7 in Game 2, which included a lengthy 5-on-3 advantage. 

Game 4 is set for Friday at 7:35 p.m. inside Infinite Energy Arena. The Gladiators will also host Game 5 — if it’s necessary — on Sunday at 2:05 p.m. If Atlanta can take at least two of the next three on its home ice, the series would shift to Estero, where the Everblades would host Games 6 and 7 on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.