ESTERO, Fla. – Four different Florida Everblades scored goals and goaltender Evan Fitzpatrick was brilliant in his return to action, as the Blades claimed a physical 4-3 victory over the South Carolina Stingrays in front of 5,947 loud and proud fans Friday night at Hertz Arena. Winners of five straight home games, the Everblades have won all four contests versus the Stingrays this season.
Fitzpatrick made a season-high 38 saves as he returned to the crease for the first time since November 25 after sitting out 24 games. Fitzpatrick has claimed a win in each of his last four starts, posting a 5-1 record on the season.
With the victory, the first-place Everblades have opened up a five-point lead over second-place South Carolina in the ECHL South Division.
Midway through the opening period, the Everblades jumped out to a 2-0 lead over the Stingrays for the second straight game. Goals by Kobe Roth and Xavier Cormier at the 10:08 and 13:19 marks of the first period, respectively, gave the home team a lead they would not relinquish. With his 10th goal of the campaign, Roth became the fourth Blade to reach double-digit goals this season, while Cormier picked up his sixth of the year.
The teams erupted for three power-play goals in an action-filled second period that saw both squads combine for a total of 40 penalty minutes, 38 of which came in the final 3:03 of play, as the Everblades took a 3-2 lead into the second intermission.
In the busy middle frame, South Carolina’s Josh Wilkins converted at 12:03, with Jake Smith responding for the Blades at the 17:13 mark. Smith’s tally was his 17th of the year and 13th with the Everblades. At 19:28, the Stingrays’ Justin Florek scored to trim the Florida lead back to one, 3-2.
With the teams playing four-on-four hockey, Zach Uens’ first goal as an Everblade came at an opportune time, as he blasted home a pass from Smith at 7:01 of the third period to regain Florida’s two-goal advantage, 4-2. The Rays trimmed the margin to 4-3 on a goal by Benton Maass with 3:27 to play. On the year, Florida has now outscored the opposition 55-30 in the final period.
Among the six Everblades who tallied assists in the contest, notable helpers went to Lukas Kälble, who collected two assists for the fifth time this season, while Joe Pendenza notched his team-leading 24th helper of the year.
In the streak department, Oliver Chau extended his team-high point streak to seven games, over which he has 11 points on two goals and nine helpers. In addition, Chau has registered assists in five straight contests. Levko Koper also added an assist to extend his point streak to four games while Smith’s two-point night gave him a two-game point and a two-game goal streak.
The Everblades and Stingrays will close out their three-game set at Hertz Arena Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. before the Blades head out for games at Jacksonville and Orlando next Friday and Saturday, respectively.
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The Florida Everblades are the proud ECHL affiliate of the NHL’s Florida Panthers and the AHL's Charlotte Checkers.