KALAMAZOO, MI – Maybe it was the wear and tear of a long road trip. Maybe it was the unusual Monday game day. Maybe it was the green ice at Wings Stadium in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. Whatever it was, the Orlando Solar Bears sure did not any “luck of the Irish” in Kalamazoo.
Justin Taylor and Joe Sova each had two points as the Kalamazoo Wings scored four unanswered goals on the way to a 4-1 victory over the Solar Bears. The win allowed the Wings to regain sole possession of first place in the ECHL’s Eastern division while Orlando remained stuck in fourth place.
Monday’s contest was the fifth and final regular season meeting between the two teams who have quickly developed a dislike for each other. Kalamazoo won three of the games – two of them in Orlando – while the Solar Bears took two. Two of the games went to overtime where the teams split, each winning on the other’s ice surface.
The visiting Solar Bears (36-20-2-2, 76 points) were looking to avenge two losses to the Wings from earlier in the month and had the better of the early shot count. A few seconds shy of the thirteen minute mark in the opening period, Kalamazoo’s Dustin Cloutier drew a penalty that gave Orlando a power play. The man advantage turned in a Solar Bears goal when Bryce Aneloski drove down the wing and centered a pass that Scott Tanski redirected past Wings goalie Jordan Binnington to open the scoring.
As the frame headed into its final minute, it looked like the visitors would hold the lead going into the break. That was until the Wings caught a break and converted it into a score. With 12.9 seconds left on the clock, a shot by Joe Sova was blocked in front of the Orlando net. The puck went right to Cloutier who promptly deposited a backhander just inside the post behind Solar Bears netminder Cody Reichard.
The final seconds score revitalized the Kalamazoo team and seemed to deflate Orlando a bit. The Wings (38-18-2-3, 81 points) picked up steam as the second period began and took the lead less than six minutes in. Holding the puck on the right side, Matt Caria sent a pass across the slot to Nick Sirota who was wide open on the left. Sirota took the feed, set up a shot and laced it into the top left corner of the net to put his team in front for good.
Down the other end of the ice, the opportunities for the Solar Bears got fewer and fewer as the game progressed. When Orlando did have a good scoring chance, Binnington was in a zone, turning away everything he was seeing. Reichard was just as good after the Sirota tally, keeping his team in the game with eight saves in the period.
Kalamazoo extended its lead 3:29 into the final stanza and it was a former Solar Bear who did it. With the teams playing four-on-four hockey, Sova worked the puck to Chris Lawrence at the left point. Lawrence wound up and let go with a blast that whistled past Reichard into the top corner of the net.
From there, the game belonged to Binnington. The St. Louis Blues draft pick had little difficulty in handling what the Solar Bears threw at him in the period, stopping all eight shots to finish with 24 saves. Justin Taylor finished off the scoring in the final minute with an empty net tally.
Orlando’s road trip continues Wednesday night in Fort Wayne against the Komets who are fighting for their playoff lives. It will be the first time the two teams have met since the December trade that brought high scoring forward Mickey Lang to the Solar Bears.
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