While Tampa Bay and Syracuse have gone a combined 0-6 to start the postseason—the Crunch’s season could potentially be done by Tuesday—at least the other team in the Lightning organization has seen some playoff success. For the second straight season, the Orlando Solar Bears have advanced to the South Division Finals in their quest for the Kelly Cup.
The series shifted north to North Charleston, South Carolina, on Wednesday night, as Orlando looked to take the series lead over the Stingrays.
Tonight’s Projected Lines:— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) April 17, 2019
Ingram in goal
: https://t.co/fV1V8amhMz or https://t.co/3bqW88lim4 pic.twitter.com/PEUqQVCNm7
The Solar Bears grabbed a 1-0 lead midway through the first period on a goal from Mitch Hults, his third of the series. South Carolina answered with the tying goal at the 6:41 mark of the second, off the stick of defenseman Matt Nuttle.
Orlando looked to be cruising to a win midway through the third, taking a 3-1 lead on the first goals of the playoffs for Hunter Fejes (at the 1:27 mark) and Brent Pedersen (at the 9:26 mark). However, the Stingrays were not ready to throw in the towel. They cut Orlando's lead to 3-2 with 8:07 remaining in regulation on a goal by Jordan Samuels-Thomas. South Carolina then tied the game with 5:33 remaining in the period on a Jonathan Charbonneau goal.
It was on to overtime, where in the first session the Stingrays outshot Orlando 13-7, and, despite a late power play opportunity for the hosts, no goals across. It was on to double overtime. At the 10:23 mark, Fejes scored his second of the night for the game-winner, ending the longest game in Solar Bears franchise history on a good note, putting Orlando ahead 2-1 in the best-of-7 series.
Oh, and the goal celly was top-notch:
Who else would it be?— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) April 18, 2019
Hunter Fejes buries his second of the game to lift Orlando to a 4-3 win at 10:23 of DOUBLE OT in the longest Kelly Cup playoff game in Solar Bears history! pic.twitter.com/NiNL1cWn7G
Connor Ingram got the win in net for Orlando, stopping 55 of 58 Stingray shots in just over 90 minutes of work. Defenseman Alexander Kuqali added three assists, while Troy Bourke and Mike Monfredo each had a helper.
3. Parker Milner (SC) 48 saves
2. Connor Ingram (ORL) 55 saves
1. Hunter Fejes (ORL) 2 goals
Orlando had a chance to take hold of the series on Friday evening in Game 4.
Beforehand, Hults discussed the Solar Bears’ strategy for the series thus far.
"It's playoff hockey. You've got to have a short memory out there. If you have a bad shift, go out there and keep playing."— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) April 19, 2019
Mitch Hults on how taking a shift-by-shift approach to his game has led to success — the @tblightning prospect leads Orlando with three goals. pic.twitter.com/6r4YsjBFof
Tonight’s Projected Lines:— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) April 19, 2019
Ingram in goal
: https://t.co/fV1V8amhMz or https://t.co/3bqW88lim4 pic.twitter.com/0hxVoty9Ns
After a scoreless first period, the Orlando offense broke out for three second period goals. Tayler Thompson gave the Solar Bears a 1-0 advantage at the 2:45 mark of the period with his second goal of the series. Chris LeBlanc then followed at the 6:06 mark with his first of the playoffs to double the Solar Bears lead.
For good measure, LeBlanc added his second goal just under six minutes later for a 3-0 Orlando lead after 40 minutes.
The Stingrays got on the board midway through the third, cutting the lead to 3-1 on Charbonneau’s second of the playoffs. Colby McAuley then picked up his first of the postseason with 2:35 remaining to finish off the Solar Bears win, pushing South Carolina to the brink of elimination.
Ingram stopped 26 of 27 shots for the win. Six Orlando skaters each had an assist.
3. Parker Milner (SC) 27 saves
2. Connor Ingram (ORL) 26 saves
1. Chris LeBlanc (ORL) 2 goals
Orlando had their first chance to eliminate the Stingrays and move on to Round 2 on Saturday. Before the game, they received another reinforcement from Syracuse, as Otto Somppi was reassigned.
Tonight’s Projected Lines:— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) April 20, 2019
Ingram in goal
: https://t.co/fV1V8amhMz or https://t.co/3bqW88lim4 pic.twitter.com/1CV4kN2hsU
Orlando did not waste any time in the first period, jumping out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Thompson (3rd of the postseason) and Fejes on a power play (also 3rd of the postseason). Stingrays defenseman Kevin McKernan cut the Solar Bears lead in half 13 seconds into the middle period with his first of the series. Troy Bourke then reestablished Orlando’s two goal lead with his first of the playoffs at the 9:25 mark. South Carolina responded with 3:01 to go in the second with a Grant Besse goal to make it a 3-2 game. Jonne Tammela then picked up his first of the postseason at the 18:06 mark for a 4-2 Solar Bears lead.
The Stingrays could only manage 7 shots on goal in the third, and a Fejes empty netter with 3:03 remaining sealed the series win for the Solar Bears. Orlando eliminated South Carolina for the second straight season in the first round to move on to the South Division Finals.
Ingram stopped 28 of 30 shots for his fourth straight win. Tammela and Michael Brodzinski each recorded two assists, while Fejes and two others had one helper each.
3. Cameron Askew (SC) 2 assists
2. Hunter Fejes (ORL) 2 goals, 1 assist
1. Jonne Tammela (ORL) 1 goal, 2 assists
Around the Kelly Cup Playoffs:
As of Easter Sunday, here’s where the other Kelly Cup playoff series stand:
South Division: Florida leads Jacksonville 3-2
North Division: Manchester eliminates Adirondack 4-1
North Division: Newfoundland leads Brampton 3-2
Central Division: Cincinnati leads Kalamazoo 3-2
Central Division: Toledo leads Fort Wayne 3-2
Mountain Division: Idaho eliminates Utah 4-1
Mountain Division: Kansas City leads Tulsa 3-2
The Solar Bears get a few days to rest and recharge as they wait for the Everblades and the IceMen to finish their first round series. Florida can eliminate Jacksonville with a win at home on Monday night, or, if Jacksonville staves off elimination, Game 7 is on Wednesday in Estero. Stay tuned for the second round schedule, once available.