ESTERO, FLA – Based on the results from two games on opening weekend and a quick look at the current standings, the Orlando Solar Bears had their collective work cut out for them Friday night. It’s a good thing they had a goaltending ace in their pocket because that card proved than a formidable offense can be beaten.
Veteran netminder John Curry put on a show, making 34 saves – many of the spectacular kind – to backstop the Solar Bears to a 3-2 shootout victory over the previously unbeaten Florida Everblades at the Germain Arena. Philadelphia Flyers prospect Andrew Johnston provided two scores for the visitors, one to tie the game in the third period and the game winner in the shootout, to give Orlando (3-3-0-1) its first win away from the Amway Center and to serve notice that the Everblades are human.
Johnston’s two red light shots were mirror images of each other. The shot in the shootout came wen he showed his backhand to Florida goalie Jesse Deckert then pulled it back and slipped the puck home on the forehand. His goal that actually counted in the stats came on a clean breakaway where he faked the forehand and went to the backhand for the tally.
Things didn’t start off well for Curry and the Solar Bears. The host Everblades (6-0-0-1) got on the board first when Mike Merrifield tipped an Austin Levi shot past the Orlando goaltender a mere 1:42 after the opening draw. Like the veteran he is, Curry immediately settled down and began his highlight-feel night with a huge save on a drive by Jordan Henry who was loose at the to of the crease not too long after being beaten.
Deckert, who made 28 saves in the contest, was pitching a shutout until the 9:14 mark of the period when the Solar Bears showed that they weren’t going to roll over. Some tenacious work in the neutral zone led to Orlando bringing the puck into the Florida end where defenseman Colton Jobke got the puck to Ian Slater. The Satellite Beach, Florida native fired into traffic and somehow it found its way through and past Deckert to knot the score at one.
Orlando had a golden opportunity to go ahead late in the stanza when consecutive Florida penalties put the home team down by two men. Not only did the Everblades survive the final 48 seconds of the first but they held the Solar Bears without a shot through the remaining 51 seconds of five-on-three time at the start of the second.
Florida took the momentum from the penalty kill and turned up the heat on the Orlando defense. It caused the Solar Bears to be skidish with the puck, creating several chances for the Everblades. Were it not for Curry, the game could have been out of had well before Kellan Tochkin tucked a backhander behind the Solar Bears netminder at the 10:26 mark of the stanza to put Florida back in front. By the time the clock hit zero, the Everblades had outshot Orlando 16-9 in the period but led by just one.
The Solar Bears were still in the contest, needing just one play to draw even. That play came 4:29 into the final period when Tyler Murovich made a perfect stretch pass into to neutral zone to Johnston who had gotten behind the Florida defense. He then made the forehand to backhand move and shoveled the puck home, tying the score and turning the game into a sudden-death contest.
Both teams had chances over the final fifteen minutes to get the key goal as each had two power play chances. The penalty killing units on both sides were solid and kept the opposing offenses off the board. The teams combined for just twelve shots in the frame and were still tied after sixty minutes.
The overtime session was pretty even, each team recording four shots. Curry’s biggest test came on a John Henrion shot that the Solar Bears goalie snared with his catching glove. Then in the final minute, Deckert stopped Orlando’s Zach Harrison on a two-on-one rush.
In the shootout, Orlando’s Mat Sisca put his team up early with a slap shot from the slot. On Florida’s third attempt, Henry was able to deposit a backhander into the twine. After Curry denied Henrion on the Everblades fourth shot, Johnston used his reverse move to score what would be the deciding tally. Curry still had to make one more stop, turning away Matthew Pistilli to give his team the victory.
The two teams won’t have long before facing each other again as they will head up to Orlando for the fourth meeting in three weekends. Game time at the Amway Center is set for 7 pm.
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