ESTERO, Fla. – The veterans set the stage.
Blake Winiecki and Joe Pendenza staked the Florida Everblades to a 2-0 lead and Cam Johnson registered 35 saves for his sixth career postseason shutout, leading the Blades to a critical 4-0 victory over the South Carolina Stingrays in Game Five of the South Division Semifinals Saturday night before an exuberant playoff crowd at Hertz Arena.
With a three-games-to-two lead in the best-of-seven series, the Everblades need just one more win to move on to the second round of the 2023 Kelly Cup Playoffs, presented by Lexus Dealers of Southwest Florida, as action shifts back to South Carolina for Game Six Monday at 7:05 p.m.
For the fourth time in the series, the Everblades struck first. Winiecki blasted home a picture-perfect feed from another veteran – John McCarron – at 11:05 of the opening period to stake Florida to a 1-0 lead. Winiecki’s tally was his first of the postseason, while McCarron’s helper was his first of the playoffs. Zach Uens added the secondary helper, his second assist of the series.
The Everblades’ 1-0 lead looked as if it would stay put through the entire middle period, but Pendenza had other ideas, converting on the power play at the 17:20 mark, with assists going to Logan Lambdin and veteran Stefan Leblanc. Pendenza’s tally was his second of the series and gave Florida a 2-0 advantage that would carry into the second intermission.
Florida added two third-period insurance goals as Lamdbin and Winiecki joined Leblanc for two-point nights. Lamdbin notched the Blades’ second power-play goal at 8:24, while Winiecki’s second goal of the game was an empty-netter at 17:38. Leblanc collected his second assist of the game, joining Lukas Kälble with the assists on Lambdin’s tally.
In his second shutout of the series, Johnson matched his postseason high with 35 saves and improved to 3-2 in the playoffs, while South Carolina’s Stevenson turned aside 12 shots and fell to 2-1-1.
Looking ahead in the 2023 Kelly Cup Playoffs, presented by Lexus Dealers of Southwest Florida, the winner of the Florida-South Carolina series will face either the Jacksonville Icemen or the Greenville Swamp Rabbits in the South Division Finals. Dates and times for the best-of-seven series have yet to be determined, but should the Everblades advance to the divisional finals, Hertz Arena would be the site of Games Three, Four and, if necessary, Game Five.
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The Florida Everblades are the proud ECHL affiliate of the NHL’s Florida Panthers and the AHL's Charlotte Checkers.