ST. JOHN’S, NL — Trailing by multiple games in a playoff series for the first time in more than two years, the Florida Everblades will face their first must-win scenario of the 2019 Kelly Cup Playoffs come Wednesday night in Newfoundland.
Florida, which has had home-ice advantage in each of the first three rounds of the playoffs so far, let the home-ice advantage slip away for the first time in the postseason this past weekend, losing both Game 1 and Game 2 at Hertz Arena, just the second time all season it has dropped home games on consecutive nights.
“Newfoundland is a very talented group, even more so than Colorado was last year,” Everblades head coach Brad Ralph said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of their guys in the NHL in the next few years. We’re just hoping to compete and make it a series.”
Though a loss on Wednesday wouldn’t mean the end of the line for the Everblades, only two other times has an ECHL team overcome a 3-0 series deficit to win a best-of-seven set.
But, the ‘Blades have battled back from a 2-0 deficit before to win a series, which was in Ralph’s first season at the helm against Orlando in the 2017 South Division Semifinals. Florida answered both a 2-0 series deficit and a 3-1 series deficit to win in seven games.
A catalyzing moment in that series with the Solar Bears two years ago occurred in the final moments of a 3-0 loss in Game 4 when the two teams accounted for 162 combined penalty minutes in the last minute of the game.
Similarly, Saturday’s 5-1 loss to Newfoundland included 84 combined penalty minutes in the last 90 seconds, a moment Ralph feels is symbolic of his team’s drive to keep fighting in this series.
“You have an animal backed into a corner and its instinct is to lash out and fight for its life,” Ralph said. “We saw that same fire from our group late in Saturday’s game. We’ve faced some adversity and injuries in this series, but that outburst showed me that, although we’re frustrated by the outcomes, we’re continuing to fight.”
As the series moves to Newfoundland, the ‘Blades aim to get their first win of the series and get their offense back on track. Florida was limited to less than two goals in consecutive games on only one other occasion in the regular season, scoring one combined goal in 2-1 and 1-0 losses to Jacksonville and South Carolina on Nov. 14 and Nov. 16, respectively. The Everblades promptly bounced back from that slow offensive stretch to score 25 goals in a four-game winning streak from Nov. 17-23. Florida eventually finished that stretch with a 13-game point streak.
Florida has received consistent production throughout the playoffs from captain John McCarron and rookie forward Blake Winiecki, who have combined for 25 points, but will need additional scoring sources to push the series back to Estero.
The numbers from the regular season point to forwards Joe Cox and Kyle Platzer as two possible break-out players for Florida, a duo that has only six playoff points in 22 combined games. Though he didn’t play in a regular season game after Feb. 23 due to an American Hockey League call-up, Cox still finished as the ‘Blades leading scorer with 62 points. Platzer was third on the team in scoring with 57 points. He and Cox tied for the team lead with 16 multi-point games apiece.
But the ‘Blades understand they will need more than just Cox or Platzer to step up this week to become the fifth team to successfully overcome a 2-0 series in the ECHL’s Conference Finals since 1998.
“We know how strong of an opponent we have on our hands,” Ralph said. “It’s going to be an all-out team effort to get back on track.”
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The Everblades are the proud ECHL affiliate of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes