Cruthers nets OT winner for Solar Bears

ESTERO, FLA – For the last few weeks, Orlando Solar Bears head coach Drake Berehowsky has been calling out his team leaders, asking them to turn it up a notch. Saturday night at the Germain Arena, Orlando’s captain flipped the switch at the right time and it led to a much needed victory.
Ryan Cruthers connected for his ninth goal of the season with 1:23 left in overtime to lift the Solar Bears to a 2-1 win over the Florida Everblades. The victory was just the third in the last nine road games for Orlando and only the team’s third overall win in the month of December. It also gave the Solar Bears two wins in three games against their in-state rivals with two more contests between the squads coming next week in Orlando.

Solar Bears captain Ryan Cruthers scored the overtime winner Saturday night (photo courtesy of Orlando Solar Bears)

Solar Bears captain Ryan Cruthers scored the overtime winner Saturday night (photo courtesy of Orlando Solar Bears)

The game-winning tally started with defenseman Michael Wilson making a pass from the boards to Cruthers who was covering back in the very high slot. Cruthers teed it up and ripped a shot that found the lower right corner on Florida goalie Rob Madore and sailed into the net.
Cruthers’ effort came on a night in which the Solar Bears (12-15-2-2) needed someone to step up after leading scorer Nick Petersen and defenseman Josh Caron were again recalled to Orlando’s AHL affiliate in Houston. Mat Sisca, who had four points in Wednesday’s win over the Everblades (14-10-2-4), scored the lone Solar Bears regulation time goal. It was also the second straight solid performance for netminder John Curry who once again held the high-powered Florida offense to just one goal in getting his eleventh win of the season.
Curry’s play between the pipes was spectacular at times but steady throughout. He kept Orlando in the game for much of the opening period, especially during a Florida power play midway through the stanza. Even when the Solar Bears got their own power play, Curry had to be alert to break up a short-handed breakaway by Alex Hutchings.
Florida finally dented Curry’s wall of defense with less that two minutes left in the period. It came when the netminder made the original save on a point blast by Ryan O’Byrne. The rebound came out and David Rutherford, who has been a thorn in the Solar Bears’ sides, got free enough to collect it and pop it home.
Trailing by one to start the second period, Orlando came out with more energy, putting six shots on Madore, who was making his first start for the Everblades since joining the team on Friday. The only thing that could derail the comeback effort was penalties and the Solar Bears hurt themselves by giving Florida four shots with the man advantage. Curry and the penalty killers did the job and even came close to tying the game when Cruthers caught the iron behind Madore on an odd-man short-handed rush.
In between the trips to the penalty box, the Solar Bears did knot the score. It started as a simple dump in by defenseman Bryce Lampman who instead of sending it to the corner put it on net. Madore seemed surprised by the shot and directed the rebound toward an area where Orlando’s Michael Neal got to it and fed Sisca who flipped it into the goal. The tie held up thanks to Curry who robbed Aaron Bogosian on a two-on-one rush.
The third period was a true defensive struggle as neither team wanted to give up a goal that could easily become the winner. Both team had one opportunity on the power play in the stanza but neither Madore, who finished with 25 saves, nor Curry (27 saves) were willing to allow the puck past them. In the final seconds, Curry was forced to make a big save on Florida’s Matt Marquardt to send the game into the extra period.
The Everblades were the clear aggressors in the overtime, recording three shots on the Solar Bears but Curry denied each one. Orlando was credited with just one shot but as it turned out, it was all the visitors needed as Cruthers ended the game at the 3:37 mark.
The teams will get the Christmas holiday off before resuming their in-state rivalry on Thursday, December 27th at the Amway Center in Orlando.
Contact the author at don.money@prohockeynews.com

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