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Solar Bears Weekly Check In: Holiday in the Clutch

Orlando takes 5 of 8 points and hangs on to the final East playoff spot.

Gary Bassing/Orlando Solar Bears

It was another busy week for the Orlando Solar Bears, as the 2020-21 regular season winds down.

The team began the week hanging on to the fourth and final playoff spot in the ECHL’s Eastern Conference, with South Carolina and Jacksonville closing in behind them.

After taking five out of eight points this week - thanks to two late third period rallies - the team is getting closer to seeing that “X” next to their name.

Record Setting Honor for Windsor

On Tuesday, goaltender Clint Windsor was named the Warrior Hockey/ECHL Goaltender of the Week for the fourth time this season. He went 2-1-0 with a 1.68 GAA and .953 save percentage in three starts last week. His fourth weekly award ties him with three other goaltenders for most honors since the ECHL began giving out the award in the 1997-1998 season.

Among ECHL goaltenders, Windsor is tied for first in wins with Florida’s Jake Hildebrand with 22, and sits alone in first in minutes played, shots faced, and saves.

Game #65, Wednesday 5/26: Jacksonville 6, Orlando 3

As is the custom in the month of May, the Solar Bears began another busy week 2 hours north on Interstate 95 in Jacksonville on Wednesday.

After a scoreless first frame, the teams exploded for six combined goals in the first 8 minutes of the second period. It took 55 seconds for Ara Nazarian and Mike Szmatula to connect on Windsor, and suddenly it was a 2-0 Icemen lead. Mark Auk quickly responded for the Solar Bears, scoring his 7th 23 seconds later to cut the lead in half. Michael Joly tied it up at 2 at the 4:57 mark with his 17th goal of the season shorthanded. Abbott Girduckis put Jacksonville ahead 3-2 at the 7:04 mark, but Chris LeBlanc answered with his 13th goal 55 seconds later to tie the game at 3.

Third period was all Icemen, as they outshot Orlando 12-9 and connected three more times. Ryker Killins’ goal at the 1:07 mark put Jacksonville ahead for good 4-3. Nazarian completed the hat trick with a pair of empty net goals 1:08 apart late in the period to finish off a much needed win for the Icemen, who moved to within just .009 points of a playoff spot.

Windsor finished with 29 saves on 33 shots. Three Orlando skaters added assists.

Game #66, Friday 5/28: Florida 3, Orlando 2 (OT)

No better way to start Memorial Day weekend than with a few lineup changes...and kicking off an important 3 game set at the Amway Center against a possible first round opponent!

Florida took an early 1-0 lead, as Alex Kile scored his 23rd goal of the season 4:50 into the contest. John McCarron doubled the Everblades lead 7:08 into the second with a shorthanded goal.

Orlando finally found the back of the net midway through the third. On their fifth power play of the evening, Nikita Pavlychev connected for his third ECHL goal of the season to cut the Florida lead in half.

With Windsor pulled and time beginning to run out, Tristin Langan came through in the clutch, scoring his 25th goal of the season with 51 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game at 2.

It was on to overtime, where McCarron finished off any chance of a full Orlando comeback, scoring his second of the night just under two minutes into the extra frame to give the Everblades the second point.

Windsor finished with 36 saves on 39 shots. Four Orlando skaters added at least one helper.

Game #67, Saturday 5/29: Orlando 6, Florida 4

Michael Lackey got the nod in net as the Solar Bears and Everblades faced off in game 2 of their 3 game set on Saturday.

The offense on both sides came to play in the opening 20 minutes of this one.

Florida took a 1-0 lead 1:58 after puck drop on a goal by Marcus Vela. Joly tied the game at 1 at the 4:21 mark with his 18th goal of the season, off a nice pass from Jerry D’Amigo.

Less than three minutes later, Orlando took a 2-1 lead off a power play goal from Pavlychev.

Joseph Garreffa added an unassisted goal, his 12th, at the 10:26 mark for a 3-1 Orlando lead.

Florida cut the lead to 3-2 with 3:52 remaining in the first on a goal by Joe Pendenza.

After a scoreless second, the Solar Bears put the game away in the third. Just 28 seconds into the period, Tyler Bird connected for his 15th goal of the season for a 4-2 Orlando lead.

Florida made it interesting at the 3:03 mark, cutting the lead to 4-3 on a Hugo Roy goal. Matthew Spencer added an insurance power play goal with 9:53 remaining for a 5-3 Orlando advantage.

Again, the Everblades tried to make it interesting, as Blake Winiecki cut the lead to 5-4 with 4:55 remaining. But Langan finished it off in style, scoring into an empty net with 1:34 remaining to seal an important win for Orlando.

Lackey stopped 37 of 41 Florida shots for his 7th win. Spencer put up a career best three-point night, adding a pair of assists. Aaron Luchuk also added two assists, giving him a franchise record 44 for the season. He also tied the franchise record for points in a season with 70.

Luchuk was also the star of the latest edition of 3 Stars Cam.

Game #68, Sunday 5/30: Orlando 3, Florida 2 (OT)

With South Carolina idle, Orlando had a chance to create a little breathing room between fourth and fifth in the East with a win on Sunday.

Orlando’s position in the standings was not the only thing at stake on Sunday.

Orlando got off to a good start in the first, as Pavlychev scored his third straight power play goal at the 7:24 mark for the early 1-0 lead.

Florida found their way onto the scoresheet early in the second, as Winiecki tied the game at 1 4:45 in.

The Everblades thought they had taken a one goal lead 53 seconds into the third when the puck appeared to have just passed Windsor, but the referee denied it. Eventually, Florida did get that one goal lead, as a Myles Powell goal with 7:13 remaining in regulation put them up 2-1.

Just like on Friday night, Orlando came through in the clutch. On their second power play, and with Windsor pulled for a 6-on-4, Langan connected for his 27th goal of the season with 1:03 to go in regulation to tie the game at 2.

It was on to overtime for the second time in three days, where it took a red hot Spencer just 49 seconds to snag the game winner for the Solar Bears, keeping Orlando in 4th place in the East going into the final week of the regular season.

Windsor stopped 33 of 35 Everblades shots. Spencer added two assists, giving him seven points in his last three games. Luchuk added two more assists, giving him 8 points in his last seven games. His 72 points for the season top all ECHL skaters.

Kelly Cup Playoff Seedings Update

Here is how the Eastern Conference looks going into the final week of the regular season (as of 5/31/21):

  1. x-Florida: 66 GP, 40-19-4-3, 87 points, .659 pct
  2. x-Greenville: 69 GP, 36-19-11-3, 86 points, .623 pct
  3. Indy: 66 GP, 35-23-8-0, 78 points, .591 pct
  4. Orlando: 68 GP, 35-26-6-1, 77 points, .566 pct
  5. South Carolina: 67 GP, 31-23-10-3, 75 points, .560 pct
  6. Jacksonville: 68 GP, 33-28-3-4, 73 points, .537 pct

The Swamp Rabbits punched their postseason ticket after a win over Jacksonville on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Western Conference field is full, as Wichita, Allen, Fort Wayne, and Utah have secured their postseason spots.

This Week’s Schedule:

The Solar Bears finish off the regular season with another four game week that will determine their postseason destiny.

Orlando returns to Jacksonville on Tuesday, hosts South Carolina on Thursday, goes back to Jacksonville on Friday, then finishes the regular season at home on Saturday against Florida.