ESTERO, Fla. — Michael Downing's role as hero has turned into a recurring one.
Downing scored the game-winning overtime goal for the second time in a week to lift the Florida Everblades to a 3-2 win over the Jacksonville Icemen in Game 1 of the South Division Semifinal series on Thursday night at Hertz Arena.
Florida’s power play proved to be the x-factor in the victory, accounting for two goals on three chances against Jacksonville, which was the ECHL’s best penalty-killing team in the regular season.
The first period was filled with goals from inside the blue paint, as all three goals scored in the frame were put in from the crease.
Jacksonville got on the board first on an odd-man rush at the 9:03 mark of the first period. As the Icemen made their way into the zone on a two-on-one breakout, Florida goaltender Jeremy Helvig made the initial save, but the Icemen rushed the net mouth and Alexis D’Aoust jammed the puck through Helvig for the goal.
The Icemen added to their lead on the power play only two minutes, 40 seconds later. Everblades defenseman Riley Weselowski got a stick on the puck on a shot from Maxime Fortier, sending the puck wobbling through the air over the head of Helvig. Christophe Lalancette pounced on the puck and tapped it in from behind the ‘Blades rookie goaltender.
But Helvig locked in from there and went the final 55:16 without allowing a goal to earn his first career playoff win.
The ‘Blades offense went on to score the next three goals, an unanswered scoring push started by Justin Auger only 69 seconds after Jacksonville’s second goal. On a play very similar to Jacksonville’s power-play tally, the puck snuck in behind Jacksonville goaltender Ken Appleby, and Auger dove headlong to punch it in to bring Florida’s deficit to just one.
After more than 40 minutes of scoreless play, the ‘Blades finally tied the game at two with 6:51 left in regulation. On a passing sequence that saw every ‘Blades player touch the puck, Ben Massella finally got set up for a shot at the right point. Although Appleby stopped the initial chance, Matt Finn located the rebound in the slot and shoveled it in to tie the score.
The ‘Blades nearly won the game early in the extra session when Sam Warning and Nathan Perkovich broke out with a two-on-one rush a little over two minutes into the extra frame. Warning threaded the puck to Perkovich, who was wide open at the back post, but he couldn’t get a piece of the puck as it bounced over his stick.
The missed opportunity wouldn’t matter thanks to Downing’s heroics that sent the ‘Blades bench parading onto the ice at 6:59 of the first overtime. Following a high-sticking penalty to Jacksonville’s Dajon Mingo, Florida capitalized on the ensuing power play. Kyle Platzer set up Downing at the left point, and Downing hammered a shot through traffic that snuck past Appleby and sealed the come-from-behind win.
Florida’s victory marked the fifth time this season it has overcome a deficit after two periods. Four of those victories have occurred against Jacksonville.
Finn (1g-2a) and Downing (1g-1a) both finished with multiple points in the win.
The Everblades continue the best-of-seven series on Saturday night at Hertz Arena. Faceoff is slated for 7 p.m.
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