ESTERO, Fla. — Christmas came early for the Florida Everblades on Saturday night.
Trailing 5-3 with less than eight minutes to play, the Everblades (18-6-5-0, 41 pts.) scored twice to force overtime, and Justin Auger potted the game-winner 3:17 into the extra session to give Florida a 6-5 victory over the Orlando Solar Bears (14-11-3-0, 31 pts.) at Hertz Arena.
Derek Sheppard ignited the comeback with his second goal of the night at the 12:29 mark of the third. Upon receiving a pass from Auger at the top of the left circle, Sheppard toe-dragged and faked a shot, getting an Orlando defenseman to go down. Sheppard then walked in closer and rifled a shot under the crossbar to cap his three-point night (2g, 1a) and whittle the ‘Blades deficit to one.
With Florida on a power play and netminder Jeremy Helvig pulled for an extra attacker, ‘Blades captain John McCarron found a rebound at the side of the net and punched it past Orlando goaltender Corbin Boes with 1:28 to play to pull the game even at five. The goal was the fourth in three games for McCarron, who also tabbed an assist for his third straight multi-point game.
Then, with 1:43 left in overtime, Auger beat Boes with a shot from the high slot to complete the come-from-behind win, Florida’s largest comeback effort of the season.
Orlando got on the board first just three minutes into the first period. Off a faceoff win in the ‘Blades zone, Cody Donaghey whipped a shot through traffic that beat Helvig high for the opening goal.
After a scoreless first, Florida erupted for three straight goals in the second to take the lead. Zach Nastasiuk evened the score at the 11:32 mark of the middle period during a five-on-three power play for Florida. Nastasiuk went from the right side of the crease all the way to the left side before tucking the puck past Boes.
Sheppard pushed Florida ahead with his first goal of the night three minutes, 50 seconds after Nastasiuk had tied it. Following a successful penalty kill for Florida, Sheppard led the rush into the zone and dropped a pass to Kyle Platzer in the slot. Platzer went to the left side of the net to Shane Walsh, who immediately returned it to Sheppard at the back door for the easy tap-in.
Matt Finn then added to the lead only 43 seconds later. After Boes stopped Finn’s attempt from the high slot and a second try from the left circle, Finn collected his rebound a second time and slipped it past Boes to make it 3-1 with 4:05 left in the second.
Orlando’s Ryan Lough closed the gap to 3-2 with a goal on a delayed penalty at the 18:09 mark of the second period.
The Solar Bears then went on to score three goals in just 53 seconds in the first five minutes of the third period to wrestle the lead back.
Orlando pulled even at three on Cody Donaghey’s second of the night, a blast from the left point at the 4:03 mark of the third period.
Solar Bears captain Mike Monfredo gave the Solar Bears the lead back 29 seconds after Donaghey had tied it. Then, off an outlet feed from Donaghey, Chris LeBlanc scored on a breakaway to cap the Solar Bears’ three-goal outburst with four minutes, 58 seconds gone in the third period. Helvig finished with 16 saves to earn his fourth straight win.
In addition to Sheppard’s three-point night, Finn (1g, 2a), Auger (1g, 1a), McCarron (1g, 1a), and Joe Cox (2a) also had multi-point games.
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The Everblades are the proud ECHL affiliate of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes