As the Florida Everblades prepare for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals on Tuesday, April 30, the reigning ECHL champs face a challenge that even these playoff tested warriors have not experienced. Trailing 3 games to 2 to the Reading Royals, the best-of-seven series now shifts to Pennsylvania, with the Blades possessing zero margin for error.
During last year’s glorious run to its first title, Florida never faced elimination. In fact, the Blades did not lose more than a single game in four straight series triumphs, posting a dominant 15-3 record throughout the 2012 Kelly Cup playoffs.
Defending the Cup has proven more challenging, as Florida disappointingly dropped consecutive games to Reading this past weekend on the home ice of Germain Arena. Both games were lost in the early stages of overtime, with the Royals claiming a 3-2 victory on April 26 and a 5-4 win on April 27.
Each contest additionally witnessed big swings, including the Blades managing to overcome two goal deficits on both nights, only later to surrender frustratingly a 4-2 lead during the last five minutes of the 3rd period of Game 5. While Jesse Deckert took the loss in net in Game 4, it was newly-signed Brady Hjelle of Ohio State University on the hook a night later.
Though perfectly legal, the Royals are benefiting from an infusion of talent from AHL players, who were specifically added to the squad’s roster for its current playoff run. In fact, forwards Evan Barlow and Ian O’Connor rejoined Reading within the last week and each already contributed a pair of goals during the club’s two weekend victories.
Florida coach Greg Poss must find answers to overcome that advantage in short order. While Deckert will likely be summoned back into net, the team’s uncertainty with goalies stands in stark contrast to last year’s brilliance by John Muse. Additionally, the Blades must improve their power play, after going a fruitless 0 for 7 with a man advantage during the past two games.
As Reading looks to close out the series, the puck will drop at 7:05 p.m. at the Sovereign Center on Tuesday, April 30. Blades’ fans can follow the action on radio at 96 Rock (96.1 FM in Southwest Florida) or view the game from a watch party at Breakaway Sports Pub inside Germain Arena.
If the Everblades win, Reading will host a dramatic Game 7 a day later. Otherwise, parity will again triumph, as the 2012-13 season can mark the 19th consecutive campaign where a defending ECHL champion fails to repeat.
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