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Solar Bears Den: Out of Time, Out of the Playoffs

The 2021-22 season is over for Orlando.

Fernando Medina/Orlando Solar Bears

We have made it to the end of the ECHL regular season!

For the Orlando Solar Bears, every cliche applied as they approached their final three contests—backs against the wall, never done until the last play, etc.—as they battled Greenville for the fourth and final South Division playoff berth.

It wasn’t going to be an easy task for the team, though. Coming into the week, their magic number to clinch a postseason spot was 9. With just three games to go, do the math—Orlando needed to not just win out, but hope that the Swamp Rabbits, whose magic number was 6—dropped at least one of their final four match-ups.

So what happened? Unfortunately, Orlando was only able to get one out of three wins, Greenville snagged the final playoff spot, and the Solar Bears’ summer vacation has begun.

Game #69, Tuesday 4/12: Orlando 6, Jacksonville 2

Orlando wrapped up their regular season home schedule on Tuesday, facing a must-win situation against third place Jacksonville.

Orlando was not about to go down without a fight—literally—as Ross Olsson and Shawn Element each got into separate bouts in the first 5:34 of the game. On their first power play of the evening, Cole Moberg connected for his third goal of the season with 7:13 remaining in the opening frame for a 1-0 Solar Bears lead.

Tyler Bird doubled the Orlando lead with 2:03 remaining in the first with his 18th of the season.

Jacob Friend cut the Orlando lead in half 47 seconds into the second with his 5th of the season. The Solar Bears responded with another power play goal, this one off the stick of Tye Felhaber, with 9:54 remaining in the period for a 3-1 lead.

The power play success continued as Aaron Luchuk scored the third Orlando goal with the man advantage with 4:17 to go in the second for a 4-1 lead.

Orlando had a golden opportunity to add to their lead in the third after getting a four-minute power play...but allowed a shorthanded goal to Derek Lodermeier at the 7:42 mark to make it a 4-2 game. Moberg added his second of the night with 6:40 remaining in the contest for a 5-2 Orlando lead.

Things got a little chippy late in the third, as captain Kevin Lohan and Dmitry Semykin were involved in the third fight of the evening, with Semykin getting the gate for continuing an altercation. With 20 seconds to go, Olsson finished off the Orlando offense with a carom into the Jacksonville net for a 6-2 lead.

With the win, Orlando reduced their magic number to 7.

Amir Miftakhov got the win in net, stopping 19 of 21 shots. Element finished a goal short of the Gordie Howe, dishing out three assists.

Game #70, Friday 4/15: Greenville 3, Orlando 1

The penultimate game of the regular season was a huge one, as Orlando headed to Greenville to keep their playoff chances alive. A win would put the Solar Bears back in fourth place. A loss would put the team on the brink of postseason elimination.

Bird got things going in the right direction in the first, scoring his 19th at the 12:41 mark for a 1-0 Orlando lead.

The Swamp Rabbits took over the contest in the second and did not look back. Liam Pecoraro tied the game at 1 1:43 into the second on a power play. Ayden MacDonald then went in alone on Miftakhnov and scored his 18th goal of the season at the 9:53 mark for a 2-1 lead.

Try as they might—Orlando did outshoot Greenville 36-28 for the evening—they were unable to generate any offense after Bird’s first period tally against Swamp Rabbits goaltender John Lethemon. MacDonald added his second of the night into an empty net as time expired, giving the Swamp Rabbits the win and a magic number of 1 to clinch the fourth playoff spot.

Miftakhnov stopped 25 of 27 shots in defeat.

Game #71, Saturday 4/16: Jacksonville 3, Orlando 1

One last chance, albeit small, for Orlando to try to gain ground, as they headed to Jacksonville for the regular season finale. They would have to do it without Odeen Tufto, who was given a 1 game suspension by the ECHL after a puck into the stands incident during the second period on Friday.

The Icemen jumped out to a 1-0 lead with 6:49 to go in the first on an Ara Nazarian goal. Felhaber responded with his 9th of the season at the 15:39 mark to tie the game at 1. Continuing the back-and-forth trend, Travis Howe scored his third of the season with 1:08 remaining in the opening frame for a 2-1 Jacksonville lead.

After a scoreless second, Jacksonville added an empty net goal from Abbott Girduckis with 24 seconds left to seal the win—and finish off Orlando’s last postseason hopes, giving Greenville the final South playoff spot.

Brad Barone finished off an outstanding campaign with the hard luck loss, stopping 19 of 22 shots.

Final South Division Standings:

1. xy-Florida: 72 GP, 42-20-6-4, 94 points, .653 pct.
2. x-Atlanta: 72 GP, 43-24-4-1, 91 points, .632 pct.
3. x-Jacksonville: 72 GP, 40-27-3-2, 85 points, .590 pct.
4. x-Greenville: 72 GP, 33-29-6-4, 76 points, .528 pct.
5. Orlando: 71 GP, 33-31-6-1, 73 points, .514 pct.

It will be Florida vs. Greenville starting on Friday, and Atlanta vs. Jacksonville kicking off on Thursday in the first round of the Kelly Cup playoffs.

What’s Next?

Coming next week, a deep dive inside the numbers to wrap up the 2021-22 season.