KALAMAZOO — Erupting for three goals in the third period on Saturday night, the Kalamazoo Wings knocked off the visiting Florida Everblades in game two of the Eastern Conference Finals by a score of 3-2. The best-of-seven series now shifts to Estero, Fla. for games 3, 4, and 5 beginning Wednesday night. The Everblades blanked the K-Wings 2-0 on Friday night in game one.
Not only were the K-Wings held scoreless on Friday night, but the Everblades kept the K-Wings off the board through the first two periods of Saturday night’s game as well, for a total of 106 minutes and 18 seconds. Compounding the problem was the fact that the K-Wings put a paltry seven shots on net in the first two periods, with just one of those shots coming in the second period.
“The second period was embarrassing for us,” K-Wings head coach Nick Bootland said following the game. “And if we don’t have the goaltender (Riley Gill), he’s probably the best goaltender in the league right now, if we don’t have him, there’s not even a hope and a prayer. He’s seen more rubber than highway I-94 did today.”
Gill stopped 36 of the 38 shots he faced on Friday night and turned away another 37 in the win on Saturday. “30 (shots) after two was a little much, but we weathered the storm there,” Gill said. “We were battling pretty hard. We’ve been a third period team all playoffs, like tonight, we pulled through.”
The Everblades took an early 1-0 lead in the first period when a Joe Sova shot was deflected into the net by Brayden Irwin. Sova started the season with the K-Wings but was later traded by the New Jersey Devils, the K-Wings affiliate, to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Everblades are the affiliate of the Hurricanes and Charlotte Checkers of the AHL, where Sova played in 20 games before their season came to an end.
The game remained scoreless until the 6:18 mark of the third period, when the K-Wings started to find their groove. Kory Karlander put the K-Wings on the board with his third goal of the postseason while on the power play.
“It was an ugly playoff goal that sort of got us going,” Bootland said. “It got us excited, and obviously the building erupted, and that is what we needed.”
Being held scoreless for so long, Karlander knew the K-Wings’ time was coming. “I knew it was going to happen,” he said. “It was an evident momentum swing (in the third). I think we did a good job at not getting frustrated, and good things finally happened for us. The crowd came alive for us, like we knew they would, and I think we fed off that energy, too.”
The K-Wings took their first lead in the series just 1:52 later on a Darren Archibald goal, his first of the playoffs. Archibald, who also had an assist on the night, was happy to see the puck cross the line. “Finally, the monkey’s off the back,” Archibald said. “It’s been a while since I found the back of the net. I kind of just picked up a loose puck outside our blue (line) and just used a defenseman as a screen and shot it far side and it happened to go in.
To tie that game was huge for us, then to get another one for 2-1. We needed that momentum boost.”
Bootland was pleased to see Archibald find success on the ice. “Arch has been struggling a bit when it comes to putting the puck in the net,” Bootland said. “I know he has been sort of frustrated with that. But to see him persevere and step up tonight … he did a good job.”
A Matt Beca goal later in the period knotted the game at 2-2. Dustin Cloutier, one of the K-Wings players on the ice when Beca scored, took exception to the goal. “I was on the shift before when they got their goal, so I wanted to get it back,” Cloutier said. “We were coming in on a 3-on-2 and there were some back checkers. I just kept going to the net hard, and Archibald shot the puck, and it went off (Nagle’s) pad, and I just happened to get a piece of it.”
Cloutier’s goal gave the K-Wings a 3-2 lead with just under three minutes left in regulation.
Karlander said that a goal like Cloutier’s is exactly the kind of goal that the K-Wings will have to score if they want to have a chance against the Everblades. “Two of the three goals were rebounds off the goalie’s pads or off their shin pads,” Karlander said. “We will have to remember how we generated two of our goals and keep working to do that.”
Both teams kept the pressure up in the final minutes of the game as the Everblades pulled Nagle for the extra skater, but the K-Wings held on for the victory.
Before they leave on Monday for Florida, the K-Wings will take some time to look back on the first two games. “We’re going to take a real good look at the (game) tape and have a focused and structured practice on Monday,” Bootland said.
While the K-Wings and Everblades are tied 1-1, Bootland stresses that it is his team that needs to make some changes. “Their coach is going to talk about doing the exact same things that they have done so far,” Bootland said. “Because of the way they are playing right now, they are going to win more than they lose. We’re the team that has to make the adjustments right now, and we’re going to have to make some tweaks.”
In the Western Conference Finals, the defending Kelly Cup Champions Alaska Aces and Las Vegas Wranglers are tied 1-1 in their best-of-seven series.