Fighting for their playoff lives on Wednesday, March 6, the Florida Everblades visited the ECHL's Eastern Conference leader and emerged with a critical overtime victory. Despite surrendering a 4-1 third period lead, the Blades defeated the Cincinnati Cyclones by the score of 5-4 on a game-winning goal from newly-acquired defenseman Brent Henley.
The contest witnessed Florida grabbing a quick lead through the efforts of captain Mathieu Roy, who hurled a wide-angled shot past Cyclones' goalie Michael Houser early in the first frame. The 5th year player netted his team-leading 30th goal and scores from Dan Milan, Corey Trevino, and Danick Gauthier followed during the initial 40 minutes of play.
The goal from Gauthier occurred in his first game with the Everblades, as the 21 year-old left wing was summoned from the Syracuse Crunch on Monday. Going the other way, veteran goalie Pat Nagle was recalled by the team's AHL affiliate, after competing in 29 contests for Florida this season. In response, General Manager Craig Brush signed 26 year-old Jesse Deckert, who recently concluded a 4 year career with the University of Manitoba, where he posted a 16-9 record and impressive 2.19 GAA in the 2012-13 campaign.
Deckert's debut did hit a road bump during a frantic 3rd period, when the Winnipeg native yielded three unanswered tallies, including the evener with barely two minutes left in regulation. In total, the rookie stopped 37 of 41 Cincinnati shots and earned his first victory when the 31 year-old Henley scored on a blistering shot from the slot just 26 seconds into overtime.
With the triumph, Florida improved its record to a symmetric 30-20-10 after 60 of 72 games, which places the club into a tie for sixth in the East. The win further secured a healthy 9 point edge over ninth place and missing the post-season, but the defending Kelly Cup champions hope to improve their position in the season's final stretch.
Following a travel day on Thursday, the team continues its four game road-trip with a pair of match-ups against the Fort Wayne Comets on Friday and Saturday and a single date with the Kalamazoo Wings on Sunday. Both North Division clubs have struggled this year and sit outside the ECHL playoff picture, giving Florida a timely opportunity to improve its standing in the more competitive South.
Fans should keep an eye on the Blades' evolving goal-tending situation. Nagle, a Tampa Bay Lightning product, made his debut for Syracuse on Wednesday by stopping 10 of 11 shots in relief during a 6-3 loss to the Toronto Marlies. Florida's other regular net-minder, 24 year-old Rob Madore, was recently summoned as a backup by Florida's other AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers.
As a result of the turmoil, equipment manager John Sellers actually served as emergency goalie during Wednesday's game in Cincinnati. The circumstances likely ensure trial by fire for Deckert, but that is nothing new for exciting world of minor league hockey.