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Late Florida goal spoils Kelly Cup Finals opener for Walleye

Saturday, June 4th
Late Florida goal spoils Kelly Cup Finals opener for Walleye

TOLEDO, Ohio – The Toledo Walleye only trailed for 1:41 of the Kelly Cup Finals opener, but those 101 seconds proved costly as the Florida Everblades snuck away with the 3-2 victory in Game 1 of the series.

The Walleye led by two late in the first period and for the first half of the second frame, but the Fish could not overcome three straight Florida goals over the second half of the contest. Randy Gazzola and John Albert found the back of the net for the Walleye while Billy Christopoulos put together a 37-save performance. The Everblades lead the Kelly Cup Finals, 1-0, with Game 2 taking place at the Huntington Center tomorrow night.

The Walleye jumped out to a 2-0 start behind two goals in a four-minute span late in the first period. Randy Gazzola put the Walleye on the board with a shot from just behind the left circle that found the right side of the net at 14:09. Mitchell Heard and Patrick Curry added assists as Gazzola collected his second goal of the playoffs.

Lukas Kaelble entered the penalty box with 17:42 gone for hooking, and John Albert took advantage at 18:04, collecting a rebound and finding the back of the net past a diving Cam Johnson to give Toledo the two-goal lead. Matt Berry and Brandon Hawkins provided the helpers on Albert’s eighth goal of the playoffs.

The Walleye took 17 shots to Florida’s 12 in the frame and took the 2-0 lead into the second period. In the second period, Florida took the shot advantage, 17-9, and added a goal of their own to cut the Toledo lead back to one. 

Florida’s goal came on the power play at the 12:36 mark as Jake Jaremko sent a pass across the crease to Zach Solow, who faced an open left side of the net and converted on the man advantage. Blake Winiecki added a secondary assist as the Everblades collected their first goal of the series.

The Walleye maintained their 2-1 lead until the 6:45 mark in the third period, when Alex Aleardi, assisted by Lukas Kaelble and Levko Koper, found the back of the net off a rebound to tie the game at two. With the goal, the Everblades and Walleye entered a tie for the first time since the 14:09 mark in the first period. 

Shortly following the goal, the Walleye went on the power play on a Stefan Leblanc high-sticking minor with 7:15 gone. At the 8:01 mark, Patrick Curry entered the penalty box for interference, resulting in just over a minute of 4-on-4 hockey. The Everblades took the man advantage for the final 1:14 of Curry’s penalty but did not score, keeping the score tied with ten minutes to play.

Toledo and Florida remained in a stalemate until the 18:19 mark. Levko Koper took the puck from the Walleye offense and passed ahead to Alex Aleardi, who gave the Everblades the lead with 1:41 left in regulation. Aleardi scored his seventh and eighth goals of the playoffs, both coming in the third period.

Looking to extend the contest to overtime, Billy Christopoulos skated to the bench to bring on the extra skater with 54 seconds remaining in regulation. Randy Gazzola got off a shot with 25 seconds left, but the Walleye ultimately could not find the back of the net to tie the game. The Everblades took the 1-0 series lead with the 3-2 victory at the Huntington Center.

The Everblades held the 40-35 shot advantage in the contest behind a 17-shot second period. The Walleye went on the man advantage four times to the Everblades’ two, and both teams scored one power play goal.

Cam Johnson collected the win in net for the Everblades, saving 33-of-35 shots in a full 60 minutes of play. Billy Christopoulos was credited with the loss in a 37-save effort for the Walleye.

What’s Next:

The Walleye will look to even the series at one game apiece on Saturday, June 4. Puck drop for Game 2 at the Huntington Center is set for 7:35 p.m.

Three Stars:

  1. Florida – Alex Aleardi (game-winning goal, game-tying goal)
  2. Toledo – Billy Christopoulos (L, 37 saves)
  3. Florida – Cam Johnson (W, 33 saves)

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