TOLEDO, Ohio – Two third-period goals by Alex Aleardi and a 33-save performance from Cam Johnson rallied the Florida Everblades from a 2-0 deficit to claim a 3-2 victory over the host Toledo Walleye in the opening game of the 2022 ECHL Kelly Cup Finals, stunning 8,600 fans Friday night at a sold-out Huntington Center. With their 3-2 victory, the Everblades took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The Kelly Cup Finals continue with Game Two at Huntington Arena Saturday night at 7:35 pm, before the action shifts back to Hertz Arena in Estero for Game Three on Wednesday, June 8 at 7:30 pm.
After 14 minutes of scoreless hockey in which both teams came up empty on their first nine shots on the opposing net, the host Walleye got on the board first. Randy Gazzola scored his second goal of the postseason, putting a blast from the left point past Blades’ netminder Johnson to stake Toledo to a 1-0 lead at 14:09 of the opening period. Mitchell Heard and Patrick Curry earned the assists.
Nearly four minutes later, the Walleye earned the first power play opportunity of the contest as Florida’s Lukas Kaelble was whistled for a hooking minor at the 17:42 mark, and the Everblades would pay. John Albert poked the puck past a sprawling Johnson just 22 seconds into the man advantage to put the Walleye up 2-0. Matt Berry and Brandon Hawkins earned the helpers on Albert’s eighth goal of the Kelly Cup Playoffs. Toledo took a 2-0 lead and a 17-12 advantage in shots on goal into the first break.
In the second period, the Everblades stymied back-to-back Toledo power plays in the opening seven minutes of play, only to trim the deficit to 2-1 as Naples native Zach Solow converted on the Blades’ first power-play chance of the contest. Following a tripping minor on Toledo’s Berry at the 12:18 mark, Solow’s sixth marker of the playoffs came just 18 seconds later, as he snapped the puck into a wide-open net past Walleye netminder Billy Christopoulos after feeds from Blake Winiecki above the right circle and Jake Jaremko down low found an open Solow in front of the left post for Florida’s first goal of the series at 12:36.
Florida took control and outshot Toledo 17-9 in the middle 20 minutes, with both goalies continuing their strong play. Following a 15-save opening period, Johnson registered nine saves for the Everblades in the middle frame, while Toledo’s Christopoulos followed up a 12-save first period with 16 stops of his own. The Blades reclaimed the edge in shots on goal, leading 29-26 after 40 minutes.
Just under seven minutes into the third period, Aleardi pounced on a rebound following a Kaelble blast from the slot and gave the Everblades the equalizer 6:45 into the final period. Aleardi’s team-leading seventh goal of the postseason knotted the score at 2-2, with Levko Koper joining Kaelble to earn the assists.
Aleardi was not done. With 1:41 left on the clock, a streaking Aleardi took a long pass from Koper, who was stationed in the defensive end, slipped past the Toledo defense on a breakaway and banged home his second goal of the night and his team-best eighth of the playoffs to seal the deal for the Everblades, 3-2.
With the Everblades outshooting Toledo 40-35, the two winningest goaltenders in this year’s Kelly Cup Playoffs did not disappoint in the opening game of the Finals. Johnson made 33 saves for the Everblades and improved to 12-1-1 in the postseason, while Christopoulos gathered 37 saves and fell to 12-3-2.
Johnson’s 33 saves matched his highest total in this year’s Kelly Cup Playoffs, equaling the 33-save effort he turned in during the Blades’ 4-3 win over host Newfoundland in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals on May 20.For Everblades head coach Brad Ralph, Game One of the Kelly Cup Finals marked his 104th ECHL playoff game as a head coach, which ties the Blades’ bench boss for second place all-time and leaves him just four games short of the league record. Ralph, the league’s all-time leader with 60 head coaching wins, trails just Matt Thomas who served as a head coach in 108 games with four different ECHL clubs over parts of 12 seasons between 2004 and 2020.
Tickets for Games Three, Four and Five of the Kelly Cup Finals in Estero on Wednesday, June 8, Friday, June 10 and Saturday, June 11 (if necessary) are on sale at the Hertz Arena Fifth Third Box Office and via Ticketmaster. The puck drops at 7:30 pm for Games Three and Four, while Game Five is slated to get underway at 7:00 pm. To learn more, call or text (239) 948-7825 or purchase HERE.
Fans unable to catch any of the Kelly Cup Finals games in person can watch every Florida Everblades game on FloHockey.TV. In addition, fans can listen to the exciting game action online via Mixlr at www.mixlr.com/florida-everblades or on ESPN Southwest Florida on 770 AM, 98.1 FM, 104.3 FM.
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2022 Kelly Cup Finals Tickets are now on sale. Join the Blades in their pursuit for a second Kelly Cup title! To learn more, call or text (239) 948-7825 or purchase HERE.
Become a member of the Florida Everblades family by securing a great seat location and big savings with a Blades 365 Membership!
Purchase a new Voucher 12 package that allows you to use 12 tickets in any quantity during the 2022-23 season to earn the exclusive benefits of being a Blades 365 Member! To view the Blades 365 Membership savings, benefits and options click HERE.
Everblades put the FUN in FUNdraising! There is no handling of money or tickets and no limit to the amount of money your group can make with the Everblades easy-to-run online Fundraiser! For more information, or to reserve a Fundraiser Night at an Everblades regular season home game, call or text (239) 948-7825.
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Watch every Florida Everblades game on FloHockey.TV. Listen to the exciting game action on ESPN Southwest Florida on 770 AM, 98.1 FM, 104.3 FM and online at https://espnswfl.com or Mixlr at www.mixlr.com/florida-everblades.
The Florida Everblades are the proud ECHL affiliate of the NHL’s Nashville Predators and the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals.