We are down to roughly 30 games left in the ECHL regular season. And in the combined Eastern Conference, half of the Kelly Cup playoff picture is slowly coming into focus, with the Florida Everblades and Indy Fuel locked into the first and second position.
As for the rest of the field, it’s looking like a competition between three teams for the the final two spots: Greenville, South Carolina, and the Orlando Solar Bears.
This week, Orlando had a chance to gain ground in the conference standings, as they faced off against Greenville for a 2 and 2 series.
Two overtimes and two shutouts later, the Solar Bears had taken 6 out of 8 points, and find themselves five points out of second place in the East.
With playoff positioning on the line, the Solar Bears and Swamp Rabbits started the first of four straight matchups on Tuesday night at the Amway Center.
Greenville got off to a fast start against Clint Windsor in the first 20 minutes of the game. Garrett Thompson scored his 10th goal of the season exactly 3 minutes into the contest for a 1-0 lead. Nick Poehling added his 5th just over 8 and a half minutes later to double their advantage.
The Swamp Rabbits made it 3-0 on a power play goal by Patrick Bajkov 2:07 into the second. Just like with the other team in South Carolina a few games ago, Orlando once again proved that a 3-0 lead is the worst lead in hockey. Rookie Karlis Cukste scored his first ECHL goal at the 8:56 mark to get the Solar Bears on the board.
It starts with one. Karlis Cukste gets us on the board! pic.twitter.com/H9roDjVg8V— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) April 7, 2021
Aaron Luchuk cut the Greenville lead to 3-2 with 8:06 remaining in the middle frame with his 14th of the season.
The Solar Bears completed the rally early in the third, as Mark Auk scored his 5th of the season on a power play 3:22 into the period to tie the game at 3.
We've got a brand new game, folks! pic.twitter.com/Uk8deZZ0MM— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) April 7, 2021
The game remained tie through regulation and overtime, and it was on the shootout. Joseph Garreffa scored in the first round for the Solar Bears, while Windsor stopped Matt Bradley.
Such a beaut, need to watch on repeat pic.twitter.com/qePmkDyRzI— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) April 7, 2021
Tristin Langan and Kyle Topping were unsuccessful in their attempts, along with Thompson for Greenville. It was all up to Greenville defenseman Jack Sadak to extend the contest.
Come for the save, stay for the Windsor celebratory dance.
Windsor finished with 41 saves on 44 shots through regulation and overtime, and of course stopped all three shootout attempts.
Windsor got the nod again in net as Orlando looked to sweep the home portion of the 4-game set.
The teams exchanged goals in the first 20 minutes of the contest. Poehling got the Swamp Rabbits on the board 12:34 in with his sixth of the season. Topping tied the game at 1 2:25 later with his 6th goal of the season on Orlando’s second power play of the evening.
Forty seconds into the middle frame, Luchuk struck again for his 15th of the season for a 2-1 Solar Bears lead.
We ALL need another look at that Luchuk goal!! What an incredible pass from LeBlanc pic.twitter.com/Z6BM0bjW1N— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) April 9, 2021
Liam Pecararo tied the game for the Swamp Rabbits with 7:10 remaining in the second with his 8th goal of the season.
Greenville took a 3-2 lead 2:11 into the third on Eric Williams’ first of the season. With 3:58 remaining in regulation, Tyler Bird re-tied the game with his 10th of the season, becoming the fifth Orlando skater to hit double digits in goals.
It's a BIRD, it's a plane! Check out this incredible breakaway goal from Tyler Bird! pic.twitter.com/x2sDFXeOse— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) April 9, 2021
For the second straight game, it was on to overtime, where the captain finished things on a high note. Chris LeBlanc’s goal 2:23 into the extra frame gave the Solar Bears their third straight win.
Windsor finished with 35 saves on 38 shots for his 13th win. LeBlanc and Luchuk each added two assists.
With rookie forward Nikita Pavlychev returning to the team after four appearances with Syracuse, the Solar Bears embarked on a nine game road trip, with Greenville the first stop.
Pavlychev, Hrabik and Spencer draw back into tonight's lineup!— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) April 10, 2021
via @flohockey — https://t.co/g5aLHtwARH
https://t.co/fV1V8amhMz / https://t.co/ov8kK3hE0p#BEARLIEVE | #ORLatGVL pic.twitter.com/sWkSipvxkW
After a scoreless first, the Solar Bears got on the board early in the second. Bird scored his 11th of the season 1:04 into the middle frame for a 1-0 lead.
The -man is at it again! Orlando takes a 1-0 lead! pic.twitter.com/EXmsrQUHyD— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) April 11, 2021
Nolan Valleau doubled the Orlando lead at the 11:26 mark on a power play with his 4th goal of the season.
Making his first appearance in the lineup since March 28th, Matthew Spencer added an empty net, shorthanded tally with 1:43 remaining to seal the victory. Windsor took care of the rest, stopping all 23 shots faced for his second shutout of the season. Topping added two assists in Orlando’s fourth straight win.
Rookie Michael Lackey got the start in net as the Solar Bears went for the four game sweep of the Swamp Rabbits on Sunday afternoon.
Aiming to close the week out with another win!— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) April 11, 2021
via @flohockey — https://t.co/g5aLHteZt7
https://t.co/fV1V8a4GnZ / https://t.co/ov8kK302BP
⚡️ @boltsradio#BEARLIEVE | #ORLatGVL pic.twitter.com/OGb5i43kQW
After another scoreless first, the Swamp Rabbits jumped on Lackey in the middle frame. Thompson picked up his 11th of the season at the 4:52 mark of the period for a 1-0 Greenville lead. Max Zimmer doubled the lead just over three minutes later with a shorthanded tally, his 12th of the season. Pecoraro made it a 3-0 contest with 9:17 to go in the period with his 9th.
The Swamp Rabbits added to their lead in the third, as Thompson scored his second of the game at the 3:27 mark for a 4-0 advantage. With 6:42 remaining—and 8 seconds into a 5-on-3 power play—Zimmer added his second of the day for a 5-0 Greenville lead.
Despite putting up 44 shots on goal and receiving five power play opportunities, Orlando could not generate any offense against Swamp Rabbits rookie goaltender Jacob Ingham, who earned his first ECHL win and shutout in 8 appearances this season. Lackey stopped 20 of 25 shots in the loss, which snapped Orlando’s 4 game winning streak.
This Week’s Schedule:
Orlando’s 9 game road trip continues this week with a 3-in-3 weekday slate. They will take on the Stingrays in South Carolina on Wednesday and Friday, with a visit to Jacksonville in between on Thursday.