The penultimate week of the ECHL regular season had just one job for the Orlando Solar Bears: Win, and you’re in. It may have taken four games to do it, but...mission accomplished. A 2-2 week has the Solar Bears on the verge of wrapping up both second place in the ECHL’s South Division and home ice for at least the first round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs.
Attempt #2 to clinch a playoff spot came on Wednesday night in Georgia, as the Solar Bears paid a visit to the Gladiators, a team in a fight for their playoff lives.
Tonight’s Projected Lines:— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 27, 2019
Windsor in goal
: https://t.co/fV1V8amhMz or https://t.co/3bqW88lim4 pic.twitter.com/APywR86c8m
Atlanta got on the board early in the first against Solar Bears goaltender Clint Windsor, who was making his third consecutive start. Nick Bligh scored his 25th goal of the season 80 seconds into the game for a 1-0 Gladiators advantage.
Zach Frye tied the game for Orlando 8:24 into the second period with his 5th goal of the season. Just over two minutes later, Atlanta broke the tie on Zach Malatesta’s fifth of the year.
The Gladiators took over the contest from that point, scoring three more in the third on Windsor. On Atlanta’s third power play of the night, Brady Fleurent picked up an insurance goal 4:48 into the third for a 3-1 game. Matt Lane then added his 10th with just under 6 and a half minutes remaining to make it 4-1 Atlanta. Finally, with the Orlando net empty for an extra attacker, and on a penalty kill, Justin MacDonald scored his 20th shorthanded for the 5-1 final, meaning Orlando’s playoff spot would have to wait for another day.
Windsor managed to stop 35 of 39 shots, including this one in the second period:
Mathieu Foget and Brent Pedersen had the lone assists for the Solar Bears.
3. Brady Fleurent (ATL) 1 goal
2. Matt Lane (ATL) 1 goal, 1 assist
1. Nick Bligh (ATL) 1 goal, 1 assist
The road trip headed to South Carolina on Friday. Once again, the Solar Bears had a chance to clinch a playoff spot. Maybe the third time would be a charm?
Tonight, @OrlandoHockey and @kc_mavericks look to clinch berths in the 2019 #KellyCupPlayoffs presented by @smiledirectclub while the @NLGrowlers can secure the North Division title. pic.twitter.com/x47A19qe2Z— ECHL (@ECHL) March 29, 2019
Connor Ingram got his first start since his quick 24 hour visit to Syracuse last weekend.
Let's do this.— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 29, 2019
Tonight’s Projected Lines:
Ingram in goal
: https://t.co/fV1V8amhMz or https://t.co/3bqW88lim4 pic.twitter.com/BIV2nZ1g4v
Just like on Wednesday night in Atlanta, Orlando found themselves trailing in the opening period. Zach Franko’s third goal of the season at the 11:24 mark of the first gave the Swamp Rabbits a 1-0 lead. Greenville doubled their lead just 46 seconds into the second period on a goal by Jake Bolton. That second goal ended Ingram’s night early, as he was pulled in favor of Windsor.
The change in net seemed to wake up Orlando’s offense, as the Solar Bears rallied back to tie the contest. Otto Somppi picked up his 10th goal of the season shorthanded at the 3:01 mark to cut the Greenville lead in half. Chris LeBlanc then added his 8th goal with under two minutes remaining in the middle period for a 2-2 tie.
Greenville quickly regained the lead in the third. Austen Brassard scored his 21st goal 36 seconds into the period for a 3-2 lead. Franko added his second of the game on a late empty-netter, putting Orlando’s playoff spot on hold for yet another night.
Ingram stopped 12 of 14 shots in just over 20 minutes of work. Windsor had 10 saves on 11 shots in relief. Somppi and three other skaters had one assist each.
3. Otto Somppi (ORL) 1 goal, 1 assist
2. Austen Brassard (GRN) 1 goal
1. Zach Franko (GRN) 2 goals, 1 assist
The Solar Bears got a goal and assist from Otto Somppi on Friday night, but it wasn't enough as the Swamp Rabbits prevented Orlando from clinching a playoff spot. Read up in our @AdventHealth Postgame Report: https://t.co/R9NQ3AikNL— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 30, 2019
The Solar Bears continued their South Carolina road swing in North Charleston on Saturday, as they made their fourth attempt to clinch a playoff spot against the Stingrays, who were just trying to stay alive in their own playoff hunt.
After being pulled early in Friday night’s contest, Ingram got right back in the starter’s net, hoping for a little redemption.
Tonight’s Projected Lines:— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 30, 2019
Ingram in goal
: https://t.co/fV1V8amhMz or https://t.co/3bqW88lim4 pic.twitter.com/qPc1ATvd1q
For the third straight game, the Solar Bears found themselves trailing early on. Patrick Gaul’s 10th goal of the season with 1:32 to go in the first period put the Stingrays ahead 1-0. The hosts doubled their lead at the 5:41 mark of the second on a goal by Mason Mitchell.
Just like in Friday’s game, the Solar Bears rallied back. Tayler Thompson scored his seventh of the season at the 1:47 mark of the third period to cut South Carolina’s lead in half. LeBlanc tied the game at 2 with 14:39 remaining with his 9th of the season. Alex Schoenborn then gave the Solar Bears their first lead of the week at the 10:39 mark with his 9th goal of the season. Ingram did the rest, stopping all 11 Stingrays shots faced in the final 20 minutes of the game.
Then there was some chaos at the 19:33 mark:
Punches being thrown all over the ice, and the refs will have some things to talk about...— SC Stingrays (@SCStingrays) March 31, 2019
26 seconds to play, down 3-2 #RaysUpSC
A combined 58 penalty minutes were handed out to four different skaters, two on each side, for continuing altercation and roughing.
Once the dust settled...it was finally time to celebrate. After four tries, the Solar Bears finally got that coveted x next to their name.
Ingram picked up his fourth Orlando win, stopping 35 of 37 shots. Five Solar Bear skaters had one assist each.
3. Connor Ingram (ORL) 35 saves
2. Patrick Gaul (SC) 1 goal
1. Tayler Thompson (ORL) 1 goal, 1 assist
Big win tonight for the Solar Bears over the Stingrays to lock up a playoff spot — read how we overcame a 2-0 deficit to get the 'W' tonight in our @AdventHealth Postgame Report: https://t.co/tNdip1Lc7n— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 31, 2019
With a playoff berth wrapped up, Orlando headed back to Greenville Sunday afternoon for a rematch with the Swamp Rabbits.
Today’s Projected Lines:— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 31, 2019
Ingram in goal
: https://t.co/fV1V8amhMz or https://t.co/3bqW88lim4 pic.twitter.com/HiQ4AA5HyO
Foget got things started for Orlando in a hurry in the opening period, picking up his 20th goal of the season 1:17 into the game for a quick 1-0 lead. Greenville tied the game at 1 with just over five minutes remaining in the first on Danny Elser’s second of the season.
The two teams exchanged goals within 1:20 of each other early in the second period. With the Solar Bears on the penalty kill, Schoenborn scored his 10th of the season shorthanded to put Orlando ahead 2-1. Just seconds after the penalty was successfully killed, Daniel Perez scored his first of the season for the Swamp Rabbits to tie the game at 2.
Orlando took over the game late in the second. Somppi scored his 11th goal of the season at the 15:44 mark for a 3-2 lead. Dylan Fitze added his 12th of the year with 20 seconds remaining in the period for a two-goal cushion. Somppi finished off the scoring with 1:49 remaining with his second of the day into an empty Greenville net.
This was another strong outing for Ingram, as he stopped 31 of 33 shots on his 22nd birthday. Even though the boxscore doesn’t show it, Fitze finished with a Gordie Howe, getting the assist on Foget’s goal and taking on Greenville’s Brody Silk with 22 seconds remaining in the game. Both skaters received 10 minute misconducts for secondary altercation. Cody Donaghey added two assists.
3. Stephen Pierog (GRN) 2 assists
2. Dylan Fitze (ORL) 1 goal, 1 assist
1. Otto Somppi (ORL) 2 goals
We wrap up the weekend with another win and are now two points away from locking up home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs! Read up in our @AdventHealth Postgame Report: https://t.co/buz6H0vFQg— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 31, 2019
It was a busy Monday on the transaction wire:
-With his junior season in Kitchener complete, forward Alexei Lipanov was reassigned by Tampa Bay to the Solar Bears. Lipanov appeared in 61 games for the Rangers this season, scoring 11 goals and adding 19 assists. He also appeared in four playoff games, notching one assist.
-Goaltender Corbin Boes, who last appeared in a game for Orlando on March 19th, is off to Syracuse on a PTO to back up Atte Tolvanen while Eddie Pasquale is up in Tampa.
-Defenseman Akim Aliu was released from his PTO with Tucson after appearing in just one game for the Roadrunners.
Kelly Cup Playoff Update:
After Sunday’s action, Orlando’s record now stands at 38-25-4-1 and 81 points. They sit in second place in the South Division, leading third place Jacksonville, who clinched a playoff spot Sunday when Atlanta was defeated by South Carolina. The last playoff spot is currently occupied by the Stingrays, but they are tied in points with the Gladiators. Atlanta travels to Orlando on Thursday, where a Gladiators regulation loss would set up a virtual play-in two-game set between Atlanta and South Carolina for that last playoff spot next weekend.
Orlando wraps up the regular season—and prepares for the postseason—with another busy four-game week.
Tonight, the team heads home to host Jacksonville, where a win over the IceMen will wrap up second place and home ice in the first round. Thursday, Atlanta pays a visit to the Amway Center. Saturday, Orlando heads south to Estero to face the Everblades. Finally, the regular season ends on Sunday afternoon with another visit from Jacksonville.