BLADES 3, WINGS 1
Kalamazoo 0 1 0—1
Florida 0 2 1—3
First period — No Scoring. Penalties — Kattelus KAL (roughing), 4:19; Sirota KAL (interference on the goalkeeper), 7:33; Piche FLA (cross-checking), 15:46.
Second period — 1. Florida, Ratchuk 1 (Fischer, MacLean ), 9:02. 2. Kalamazoo, Karlander 4 (Kattelus, Matczak), 12:13 (PP). 3. Florida, Shugg 3 (Piche, Fischer), 18:11 (PP). Penalties — Bruess FLA (holding), 11:44; Irwin FLA (cross-checking), 14:28; Haczyk KAL (holding), 16:54; Sirota KAL (delay of game), 19:40.
Third period — 4. Florida, Bruess 5 (Roy), 5:56. Penalties — Sirota KAL (interference on the goalkeeper), 12:53; Piche FLA (tripping), 16:00.
Shots on goal — Kalamazoo 8-11-9—28. Florida 6-8-10—24.
Power-play opportunities — Kalamazoo 1/4; Florida 1/5.
Goalies — Kalamazoo, Gill 8-6-0-0 (24 shots, 21 saves). Florida, Muse 7-1-0-0 (28 shots, 27 saves).
A — 4,732. Officials — Krebsbach, Stagnone, Trempe.
KELLY CUP FINALS
Game 1: Monday, May 14, at Las Vegas, 10:05 p.m.
Game 2: Tuesday, May 15 at Las Vegas, 10:05 p.m.
Game 3: Friday, May 18, at Florida, 7:30 p.m.
Game 4: Tuesday, May 22, at Florida, 7:30 p.m.
*Game 5: Wednesday, May 23, at Florida, 7:30 p.m.
*Game 6: Friday, May 25, at Las Vegas, 10:05 p.m.
*Game 7: Saturday, May 26, at Las Vegas, 10:05 p.m.
* — If necessary
All times Eastern
ESTERO — The Florida Everblades punched their ticket to the Kelly Cup Finals for the first time since 2005 with a 3-1 victory over the Kalamazoo Wings.
The victory clinched the Eastern Conference championship for Florida, which will move on to face the Las Vegas Wranglers in a best-of-seven series that begins Monday, May 14, at Las Vegas.
“It was just a great team win,” Florida coach Greg Poss said. “They came out strong like we expected but we stuck with it until we got the job done.”
From the early going it was clear that Kalamazoo, the defending Eastern Conference champions, weren’t going to go down without a fight. The K-Wings dictated the pace, slowing down the speedy Everblades in a scoreless first period.
But things began to open up in the second period after Florida got a contribution from an unlikely source. Former NHL second-round draft pick Mike Ratchuk, who was a healthy scratch for all but three of Florida’s first 12 playoff games, broke the scoreless tie at the 9:02 mark of the second.
Ratchuk took a pass from David Fischer behind the K-Wings goal, skated wide into the right corner before ending up right in front of Kalamazoo goalie Riley Gill. With one hand on his stick, Ratchuk flipped the puck by Gill for the score.
“I just kind of threw it on net,” Ratchuk said. “Our goal the whole game was to just shoot, shoot, shoot and I got one in there.”
The K-Wings answered on the power play at the 12:13 mark, as Kory Karlander redirected Eric Kattelus’ shot from the left circle past Florida goalie John Muse.
But with the momentum hanging in the balance, Florida found a way to answer. Defenseman Sebastien Piche, who failed to score on a one-on-one breakaway in the first period, atoned in a big way. With the Everblades on the power play at the 18:11 mark of the second, Piche blasted a shot from just inside the blue line into the back of the K-Wings net to put Florida up 2-1.
“It was just a great play by Justin Shugg to screen the goalie,” Piche said. “It was just a great bounce for us and huge goal to take the momentum back.”
With 4,732 home fans cheering them on, the Everblades stole the momentum from Kalamazoo for good at the 5:56 mark of the third period. Penalty-killing specialists Mathieu Roy and Trevor Bruess flashed some of their offensive ability, with Roy setting up Bruess for a goal.
“When it’s 2-1 it’s always a tight situation because things can go either way,” Roy said. “But we got the goal there and I think that was kind of the back-breaker.”
With a 3-1 lead and Muse holding strong in net, Florida kept Kalamazoo off the board the rest of the way to earn the win. For the game, Muse had 27 saves to earn this third win of the series and fifth straight in the playoffs overall.
“What a great game by him,” Piche said. “He really held us in there in the first when they made their push.”
By clinching the game on Saturday, Florida avoided a costly trip to back to Kalamazoo, Mich., both physically and financially. Florida will now have a week to rest, with Game 1 of the best-of-seven Kelly Cup Finals set for Monday, May 14, at Las Vegas’ Orleans Arena.
“It would have really been a buzzkill to have to get on a plane and travel back up there,” Poss said. “You never know what can happen when you go back to their home ice so we’re glad we got it done tonight.”