If the Orlando Solar Bears have any chance to get into the Kelly Cup Playoffs, well, they must control their own destiny by piling up the points.
With a short two-game week against division foe Norfolk—and fourth place Greenville with a three-game series at home that would make up their games in hand on the Solar Bears—every point counts.
While Orlando managed to split the series with the Admirals, they still find themselves on the outside looking in with just a few days remaining in the ECHL’s regular season.
A crucial week began on home ice on Wednesday, as the Solar Bears and Admirals kicked off a two-game set.
LINEUP NOTES:— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) April 6, 2022
• Melnichuk in
• Cajkovic activated from reserve, back in lineup
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Norfolk took a 1-0 lead 5:47 into the contest on a goal by Ryan Valentini. Tye Felhaber responded with his 6th goal of the year at the 9:29 mark for a 1-1 deadlock.
Good guy Tye at it again!! pic.twitter.com/0M2belaERs— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) April 6, 2022
Valentini scored his second of the period with 4:50 remaining for a 2-1 Norfolk lead.
The Admirals continued the offense in the second, taking a 3-1 lead at the 1:31 mark on a Daniel Brickley goal, chasing Solar Bears starter Alexei Melnichuk in favor of Brad Barone, who managed to keep Norfolk mostly at bay.
Head over heels for this goalie! ♂️ pic.twitter.com/TUb7hfGP25— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) April 7, 2022
Unfortunately, the Solar Bears offense could not generate any further scoring against Admirals goaltender Dylan Wells, who stopped 40 of 41 Orlando shots. Norfolk added an empty netter from Brickley with 3:46 remaining in regulation, pushing the Solar Bears back into fifth place in the South.
Melnichuk stopped just 9 of 12 shots in 21 minutes of work, while Barone was 10 for 10. Odeen Tufto and Cole Moberg had the lone Orlando assists.
A scant 24 hours later, Barone got the call in net as the Solar Bears looked to avoid a sweep, and with Greenville in action at the same time, also looked not to lose any more ground.
LINEUP NOTES:— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) April 7, 2022
• Seven dressed tonight on the blue line
• Luchuk playing in game with the Solar Bears
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Dmitry Semykin got things going in the right direction for Orlando in the first, scoring his 3rd of the season 3:43 in for a 1-0 lead.
Teamwork makes the dream work pic.twitter.com/qhlINkx02D— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) April 7, 2022
Valentini tied the game at 1 on a power play with 3:07 remaining in the first.
Felhaber continued his strong play since returning from Syracuse, scoring his 7th 2:33 into the second to put the Solar Bears ahead 2-1. Aaron Luchuk made it a 3-1 game at the 6:05 mark with his 17th goal.
The third period was a wild one, as the teams combined for 7 goals. Marly Quince cut the Orlando lead to 3-2 44 seconds into the period, but Luchuk quickly responded with his second goal of the night 42 seconds later for a 4-2 Solar Bears lead. Tyler Bird then extended the lead to 5-2 at the 2:49 mark with his 17th. Norfolk made it 5-3 at the 8:25 mark on an Elijah Vilio goal, only to have Luke McInnis extend the lead back to 3 just 37 seconds later.
3️⃣ with a sight to see!! pic.twitter.com/n79bxff72d— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) April 8, 2022
Brett Van Os continued the back-and-forth scoring, getting Norfolk to within 6-4 only 21 seconds later. Shawn Element added the extra point into an empty net with 9 seconds to go for the final 7-4 margin.
Barone picked up win number 23, stopping 27 of 31 shots. 10 Orlando skaters registered at least one point, led by Luchuk and McInnis with three each.
Miftakhnov Returns: The crease got just a little bit more crowded on Friday, as Amir Miftakhnov was reassigned by Syracuse to the Solar Bears.
Kelly Cup Playoff Update:
With a week to go in the regular season, here’s how the South Division is shaping up:
- x-Florida: 70 GP, 40-20-6-4, 90 points, .643 pct.
- x-Atlanta: 70 GP, 43-23-3-1, 90 points, .643 pct.
- x-Jacksonville: 69 GP, 38-26-3-2, 81 points, .587 pct.
- Greenville: 68 GP, 32-27-5-4, 73 points, .537 pct.
- Orlando: 68 GP, 32-29-6-1, 71 points, .522 pct.
Jacksonville punched their postseason ticket on Wednesday, leaving just one playoff spot left in the South. Greenville swept a 3-game home series against Rapid City while Orlando was idle, giving them just a slight edge going into the final week. Something important to note: the Swamp Rabbits will play one more game than Orlando this week, with the Solar Bears losing one game from their trip to Tulsa in December due to COVID.
Three games to go in the regular season!
Orlando will host Jacksonville on Tuesday in their final home match-up. Friday night may just determine the fourth seed, as the Solar Bears head into Greenville. Orlando then finishes off the schedule in Jacksonville on Saturday.