AT A GLANCE
KELLY CUP FINALS
Game 1: Las Vegas 2, Florida 1
Game 2: Florida 7, Las Vegas 2
Game 3: Florida 4, Las Vegas 3, OT
Game 4: Florida 3, Las Vegas 1
Game 5: Florida 3, Las Vegas 2 (Florida wins series 4-1)
ESTERO — After a postseason run where every bounce seemed to go Florida’s way inside Germain Arena, it was only fitting that things went again that way on Wednesday night.
After 14 years of waiting, the drought is finally over. The Florida Everblades beat the Las Vegas Wranglers 3-2 in thrilling overtime fashion on Wednesday night to win the Kelly Cup for the first time in team history.
The victory completed a perfect 11-0 postseason run at home for the Everblades, who needed every bit of luck to pull out the win.
“The hockey gods were on our side,” Florida coach Greg Poss said. “You can only control so many things and then you have to pray and hope things go your way, and we were blessed.”
The championship-winning goal came after the teams had played nearly 65 minutes of dead-even hockey. With the game tied 2-2, Ryan Donald lofted a pass to Matt Beca, who was skating hard into the Wranglers zone. But just as he did for the team’s first goal of the game with Justin Shugg, Beca put a perfect pass on the stick of rookie Brandon MacLean, who buried the chance to set off the celebration.
“What an unbelievable opportunity,” MacLean said. “Beca found me at just the right time and I can’t even describe how good this feels.”
But if it weren’t for goalie John Muse, who recorded 41 saves and was named the series MVP, Florida might have not even been playing in overtime.
Las Vegas’ best chance to take the lead in regulation came at the 14:40 mark of the period, when forward Adam Miller got behind the Florida defense. With a one-on-one and only Muse in his way, Miller couldn’t get his shot by the goalie, who made a spectacular save to keep the game tied.
“He was just unbelievable,” Las Vegas coach Ryan Mougenel said. “That’s what you need to win a championship … he was spectacular.”
Florida jumped out to an early lead, quickly igniting the sellout crowd. The Everblades took a 1-0 lead at the 12:07 mark of the first, when Beca delivered a perfect backdoor pass to a charging Shugg, who buried the shot. The play was very reminiscent of a connection the pair made for a key goal late in Game 3.
Later in the first, after the Everblades crashed the net, Mike Ratchuk found himself in the right place at the right time as he banged home a loose puck past Wranglers goalie Joe Fallon. The goal came at the 18:46 mark and was set up by traffic in front of the net created by Trevor Bruess and Matt Marquardt.
With the fans behind them and all the bounces seemingly going Florida’s way, it seemed like the team was set to cruise to a victory. But the Wranglers had other plans.
Las Vegas scored a goal in the second period and another at the beginning of the third to put all the pressure on Florida.
The Everblades nearly folded, but Muse kept them in it, saving 10 of 11 third period shots to help force overtime.
During the third intermission, Florida regrouped and came out in the extra session gunning for the title.
“We looked around and said that if back when training camp began that if all we needed was one goal to win it all we’d be in a pretty good position,” Beca said. “That’s when we relaxed and came out ready to finish it off.”
For Mathieu Roy, the Everblades captain and the longest-tenured member of the team, the moment was almost too much to handle.
“It’s everyone together, that’s how we did this,” an emotional Roy said after the game. “This is the closest team I’ve ever been a part of and when I saw that puck go in, it was just unreal.”
* * *
EVERBLADES 3, WRANGLERS 2 (OT)
Las Vegas 0 1 1 0—2
Florida 2 0 0 1—3
First period — 1. Florida, Shugg 7 (Beca, Donald), 12:07. 2. Florida, Ratchuk 4 (Bruess, Marquardt), 18:46. Penalties — Piche FLA (tripping), 5:47; May LV (unsportsmanlike conduct), 12:07; Smith LV (fighting-major), 16:33; Weston LV (roughing), 16:33; Irwin FLA (roughing), 16:33; Piche FLA (fighting-major), 16:33; Quick FLA (roughing), 16:33.
Second period — 3. Las Vegas, Goldie 3 (May, Miller), 9:26. Penalties — Fallon LV (delay of game), 1:52; Lunden LV (interference on the goalkeeper), 6:25; May LV (unsportsmanlike conduct), 9:42; Piche FLA (roughing), 9:42; Marquardt FLA (slashing ), 13:32; Piche FLA (tripping), 16:54.
Third period — 4. Las Vegas, MacArthur 6 (Francis), 0:47. Penalties — MacArthur LV (hooking), 7:00.
OT — 5. Florida, MacLean 4 (Donald, Beca), 4:54. Penalties — No penalties.
Shots on goal — Las Vegas 13-17-11-2—43. Florida 9-11-5-4—29.
Power-play opportunities — Las Vegas 0/4; Florida 0/4.
Goalies — Las Vegas, Fallon 7-3-1-0 (29 shots, 26 saves). Florida, Muse 10-2-0-0 (43 shots, 41 saves).
A — 7,290. Officials — Krebsbach, Trempe, Stagnone.