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Solar Bears Weekly Check In: Keep Your Division Rivals Closer

Orlando stays in the Kelly Cup playoff race with a pair of wins.

Gary Bassing/Orlando Solar Bears

There are 10 days left in the ECHL’s 2020-2021 regular season. For the Orlando Solar Bears, every point counts as they battle their South Division rivals for the last Kelly Cup playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

With a busy four-game week, the Solar Bears had a chance to not only stay within the top four—and possibly move up—but put a dent in the playoff hopes of both their opponents this week, Jacksonville and South Carolina.

And...it was a 2-2 week, but it wasn’t dull. A penalty free game, a blown lead, and a lot of close games highlight the week that was:

Game #61, Tuesday 5/18: Jacksonville 2, Orlando 1

An important week began 2 hours up Interstate 95 on Tuesday, as the Solar Bears paid a visit to the Icemen.

Jacksonville jumped out to a 1-0 lead midway through the opening period on a goal by Nick Saracino. The Solar Bears tied the game up with 2:25 to go in the first when Matthew Spencer picked up his fourth goal in his last 8 games, and 6th overall of the season.

After a scoreless second period, the Icemen took a 2-1 lead with 13:43 to go in the third on Brandon Gignac’s 8th of the season. Orlando had a rush late, but was unable to get the tying goal.

Despite the loss, Orlando clung to fourth place in the East after the Icemen tied their points percentage. The Solar Bears hold the tiebreaker between the two teams.

Clint Windsor took the hard luck loss in net, stopping 26 of 28 shots. Anthony Repaci picked up an assist, his fourth point in his last three games.

The biggest story from this game? The teams combined for a total of zero penalty minutes. It was the 12th time in ECHL history—and 9th since 2004—that a penalty-free game was played.

Wednesday News Break: With the Crunch’s season officially over, forward Nikita Pavlychev was reassigned to the Solar Bears from Syracuse.

Game #62, 5/21: Orlando 3, South Carolina 2

Orlando returned home to the Amway Center on Friday night to start a huge 3-game set against the Stingrays, who are just on the outside looking in to the playoff party.

The home team got off to a good start in the opening 20 minutes, as Jerry D’Amigo scored his 10th of the season off a pass from Pavlychev for a 1-0 lead.

Joseph Garreffa doubled the lead 12:11 into the second with his 11th of the season. The Stingrays found their way onto the scoresheet 46 seconds into the third, cutting the lead in half on a Brett Supinski goal. The Solar Bears managed to get some breathing room at the 3:55 mark as Chris LeBlanc scored on a power play, his 12th of the season. That goal would eventually turn out to be quite important, as South Carolina made it a 3-2 contest with 5;59 to go in regulation thanks to Cole Ully’s 21st of the year. Unfortunately for the visitors, that was as close as they could get, and Orlando picked up the win and held on to fourth place in the East.

Clint Windsor became just the third Orlando ECHL goaltender to pick up 20 wins in a season, as he stopped 33 of 35 shots. Michael Joly added two assists.

Now to the 3 Stars...er, 2 Stars Cam?

Game #63, Saturday 5/22: South Carolina 5, Orlando 4

Michael Lackey got the nod in net for Game 2 of the series on Saturday night.

Just like the night before, Orlando was first on the board in the opening period. Joly scored his 15th of the season 4:37 into the contest for a 1-0 lead.

Dan DeSalvo tied the game at 1 at the 7:18 mark with a shorthanded goal, but the Solar Bears took the lead back just 32 seconds later as Repaci scored his 8th of the year for a 2-1 Orlando advantage.

If you like goal scoring, you would have loved the second period, as both teams combined for five goals. J.J. Piccinich gave Orlando a 3-1 lead at the 5:20 mark with his 11th goal of the season.

In a span of 2:06, the teams exchanged three goals. Dylan Steman’s 14th at the 8:33 mark cut the Orlando lead to 3-2. Spencer responded 30 seconds later with his 7th from the blue line for a 4-2 Solar Bears advantage.

Justin Florek made it a 4-3 contest with a power play goal, his 15th, with 9:21 remaining in the period. The Stingrays finished off the rally late in the middle frame, tying the game at 4 on a Mark Cooper goal. The Stingrays nearly took a 5-4 lead late, but Orlando defenseman Kevin Lohan wasn’t having it.

South Carolina did eventually take that lead, as a Max Novak power play goal put them up by 1 4:26 into the third period. Orlando pulled Lackey late, but were unable to get the equalizer.

Lackey finished with 30 saves on 35 shots. Six different Solar Bear skaters contributed assists.

Game #64, Sunday 5/23: Orlando 3, South Carolina 1

Fourth place was literally on the line on Sunday afternoon, as the Solar Bears and Stingrays finished off their three-game set.

Orlando came out flying in the first 20 minutes, as they put up 25 shots on South Carolina goaltender Jake Kupsky. It took just 46 seconds for the lead, as Tristin Langan scored his 24th goal of the season to put the good guys in orange on the board first.

Joly added his 16th of the year with 3:41 remaining in the opening period to double the Solar Bears lead.

After a scoreless second period, the Stingrays tried to come back in the third. Just 59 seconds in, Steman scored shorthanded to cut the lead to 2-1. Orlando found themselves in a special teams predicament at the 4:25 mark after Pavlychev was called for a double minor for high sticking, but managed to kill it off. Tyler Bird added an empty netter with 8 seconds remaining to seal the victory, and keep Orlando in the playoff race.

Windsor stepped it up in his 21st win, stopping 43 of 44 shots. Five Solar Bear skaters added assists.

To the 3 Stars Cam!

Kelly Cup Playoff Seedings Update:

After Sunday’s action, here’s where the Eastern Conference stands with just under two weeks to go in the regular season:

  1. x-Florida: 62 GP, 39-18-3-2, 83 points, .669 pct
  2. Greenville: 66 GP, 34-18-11-3, 82 points, .621 pct
  3. Indy: 62 GP, 33-22-7-0, 73 points, .589 pct
  4. Orlando: 64 GP, 33-25-5-1, 72 points, .563 pct
  5. South Carolina: 64 GP, 28-23-10-3, 69 points, .539 pct
  6. Jacksonville: 64 GP, 31-27-3-3, 68 points, .531 pct

Florida became the first Eastern team to secure a playoff berth after a win against Jacksonville on Saturday. Greenville had a chance to snag their spot with a win and a Stingrays loss, but a loss against Wheeling prevented that. Despite their sixth place standing, the Icemen could still make a run, but time is running out.

This Week’s Schedule:

It’s another busy week for Orlando as they have another four games. The Solar Bears return to Jacksonville on Wednesday, then host Florida for a 3-game Memorial Day weekend set on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.