ORLANDO, FLA – Throughout the season, the Cincinnati Cyclones were an okay team at home but a very good team on the road. Thursday night at the Amway Center in Orlando, the Cyclones once again proved that the numbers were not lying.
Led by a two goal effort from Wade Megan and solid goaltending by Rob Madore, the Cyclones upended the host Solar Bears 4-2 in front of an announced crowd of 4,609. Cincinnati’s win allowed it to take early control of the best-of-seven ECHL Eastern conference quarterfinal series heading into game two which is scheduled for Sunday in Orlando.
“We expected a hard fought game between two good teams. I think they had a lot of good chances that they didn’t capitalize on and we were thankful that our goalie made some saves,” Cincinnati head coach Ben Simon said. “We were fortunate enough to come in here and get a very big win.”
The fact that Cincinnati had just about the identical record on the road as Orlando had at home clearly gave the visitors confidence heading into the contest. It was also fresh in the Cyclones minds that they had soundly beaten the Solar Bears at the Amway in late March.
That confidence turned into a quick goal, although some good luck might have had something to do with it as well. It started when Orlando defenseman Connor Goggin made a good defensive play to snuff out a shot by Cincinnati’s Josh Shalla. Problem was Goggin ended up sliding into goalie Max Clermont with the puck underneath. Somehow Clermont kept the puck out of the net but it slid to the top of the crease where Megan grabbed it and lifted a backhander into the twine.
Orlando’s top offensive line evened the score up ninety seconds later. Mickey Lang began the play by sending a pass across the high slot to Jake Cepis. Cepis got Madore to slide over before returning the puck to the backside where Taylor Matson was waiting. With a wide open net to shoot at, Matson calmly fired it home from a tough angle. The Solar Bears then climbed into the lead at the 14:53 mark of the opening frame when a Bryce Aneloski shot from the slot was partially blocked in the direction of Wade MacLeod. The veteran forward settled the puck, made a stick move and went up and over Madore.
Things got wild seconds later when Orlando’s Blake Kessel and Cincinnati’s Trevor Lewis got into a tiff that turned into a near line brawl with everyone on the ice except the goalies jumping in. When the ice chips settled, the Cyclones had a power play thanks to a slashing call on Goggin and the cashed in when Megan took a pass from Jonathan Hazen and shoveled a backhander past Clermont to tie the game up.
“There was certainly a lot of emotion in the first period. We had some issues just managing the puck a little bit better in our defensive zone,” Orlando head coach Vince Williams said. “That’s an area we have to get better in.”
The Solar Bears roared out of the locker room in the second period, carrying much of the play to the Cyclones. Madore stood tall for his team, racking up save after save while his team waited for its opportunities.
Madore’s efforts were finally rewarded with less than four minutes to go before the intermission. Lewis got the puck back to defenseman Brett Wysopal at the point to Clermont’s right. Wysopal glided to the top of the circle and released a floating wrist shot that somehow eluded the Orlando goalie’s reach to put the Cyclones ahead to stay.
“He’s been great for us,” Simon said about Madore, who finished the game with 34 saves. “The knock on him is his size (5 feet, 11 inches) but he’s quick as a cat and he competes like a dog. He’s been a blessing for our team and hopefully he can continue that in the playoffs.”
The final twenty minutes were classic playoff hockey. Neither team was willing to give up shots on net as evidenced by the point that with more than half the frame gone, the squads had combined for just six shots. Looking for an insurance goal, the Cyclones got it when Lewis put a shot on net that Clermont failed to control. It came back to Lewis who converted the rebound with 3:53 to go in regulation.
Despite pulling Clermont (22 saves) with two minutes remaining, Orlando found Madore and the Cincinnati defense doing its best impression of a brick wall. Nothing the Solar Bears tried worked as the Cyclones had the door to a comeback shut and locked.
With the series set for a 2-3-2 format, Cincinnati now has home ice advantage and can put Orlando behind the eight ball with a win in game two. Williams said that given the fact that it is a seven game series, Sunday’s contest is not necessarily a must win.
“It’s a seven game series. There’s urgency every game. You’ve got to play like it’s a seven game series,” Williams said. “That’s our mindset. It starts with Sunday then we move from there but we have to focus on the areas where we have to get better. It starts with getting back to the drawing board, looking at things, dissecting the videotape and making the adjustments we have to and be ready for Sunday.”
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