Florida Everblades one win away
from first Kelly Cup
Craig Handel, ECHL.com
The Florida Everblades are just one game away from their first ECHL championship in franchise history after beating the Las Vegas Wranglers 3-1 in Game 4 of the Kelly Cup Finals on Tuesday night before 4,723 fans at Germain Arena.
With a 3-1 series lead, the Everblades can close out the series tonight. Lose and they will fly to Las Vegas Thursday for games Friday and possibly Saturday.
Forward Justin Shugg, who rejoined Florida on April 17, had a goal and an assist.
“We have an opportunity to win this championship, but we can’t get too tight,” Shugg said. “We have to find a happy medium.”
Forward Brandon MacLean, who joined the Everblades from Carleton College on March 2, scored the first goal.
“Every hockey player wants to win on home ice,” he said. “But it’s one shift at a time.”
Goalie John Muse, who rejoined Florida on Feb. 29, was sterling in goal with 29 saves.
“It’s easy to focus on this one because I’ve been there before,” Everblades coach Greg Poss said. “The last win is the hardest.”
Before their morning practice, the Everblades learned they’d be without defenseman David Fischer, who went to be with his mother Deborah, who has cancer.
With defenseman Ryan McGinnis out for the season with a knee injury, Charles Landry and Kevin Quick filled in.
This is quickly becoming Shugg’s coming out party. Just 20, he has made key play after key play these last three games.
In Game 2, his shot clanked off the post to tie the game at 2-2.
In Game 3, he scored the tying goal with 3:49 left, then created a turnover that led to the game-winning goal.
In Game 4, he had a nice set-up pass on Florida’s second goal, then essentially sewed the game up with 4:23 left when he put the puck off Joe Fallon’s helmet and into the goal.
“He tried to do that,” Poss said. “He was behind the goal line and saw a chance. Those are the kind of plays he can make.”
Poss praised Shugg for his all-around game and believes he’ll play in the NHL one day. Earlier in the day, Shugg said, “It’s something I’ve worked on ever since I became a pro.
“Defense breeds offense. There’s not too many guys in the NHL who are just dynamic scorers. It’s great to be able to score but you have to work hard away from the puck.”
Like Game 3, the Everblades took a 1-0 lead.
Like Game 3, the goal came on a great individual effort.
Taking a great lead pass from David Rutherford, MacLean skated in, cut across and lifted a backhander past Fallon with 2:05 left in the first period.
Even though the 30 games he’s played for the Everblades in regular and postseason is more than double what he played in college, he said he feels fine. “I played 68 games a year in juniors so I’ve gone through a long schedule,” MacLean said.
He has found a niche on this team as an energy guy and penalty killer. “Anytime you come to a team, you try to be a piece of the puzzle,” he said. “When I came down, coach Poss asked if I could kill penalties. I did a little in college and a lot in juniors.”
Forward Matt Marquardt, who had the game-winning goal in Game 3, made it 2-0 when he redirected Cedric Lalonde-McNicoll’s shot. Shugg set up McNicoll with a nice pass.
Just 1:07 later, Las Vegas cut the deficit to 2-1 on Peter MacArthur’s goal.
With the way Muse was playing, that’s all they’d get. He seemed testy whenever a Las Vegas player got near the crease.
“He doesn’t like players in the crease and he shows that,” Shugg said. “I don’t think I’ve seen a bad goal since I’ve been here.”
MacLean called him a rock.
Muse had a sly smile about his animated moves.
“It may have looked like that but I was pretty much the same as I always am,” he said. “Pretty much as usual.”