2024 Kansas City Mavericks vs Tulsa Oilers

What We Learned During The First Week Of The 2024 ECHL Playoffs

What We Learned During The First Week Of The 2024 ECHL Playoffs

Things in the ECHL always are unpredictable, and the Everblades are a great example. See what they're up to, plus a recap of this week's playoff action.

Apr 22, 2024 by Justin Cohn
What We Learned During The First Week Of The 2024 ECHL Playoffs

I’d venture that almost every Florida Everblades fan would struggle to pick Matthew Wedman out of a lineup. But those same fans certainly adore him right now.

Wedman, who didn’t play a single regular-season game with the Everblades, netted the overtime winner Sunday for the two-time defending champions in their series against the Jacksonville Icemen. He propelled a shot from the left circle past rookie goaltender Matt Vernon, who immediately grimaced, as the best-of-seven series was tied at one win apiece heading back to the Everblades’ home, Estero, Florida.

Things in the ECHL always are unpredictable, and the Everblades are a great example.

Wedman only played 39 games this season with the Fort Wayne Komets, but he was popular for his mix of offense, grit and leadership. He had 14 goals, 35 points and 59 penalty minutes with the Komets, before he was signed Feb. 10 by the Calgary Wranglers, his third American Hockey League call-up of the season.

Wedman never returned and the Komets. Desperate to get some offense into their lineup, they traded his rights to the Florida Everblades for Zack Andrusiak, Stanislav Demin and future considerations at the March 21 trade deadline.

The Everblades were wheeling and dealing in and around the deadline – they’d just gotten Andrusiak and Zach Berzolla from the Cincinnati Cyclones – but it’s tough to not already think they got the best of the deal. 

Wedman, who was released by Calgary last week, was on a line with Sean Josling and Josh Ho-Sang (yeah, the same one) and tied the series after a 4-0 loss in Thursday’s series-opening game.

Vernon had the 28-save shutout in the opener, while Florida’s two-time Kelly Cup Playoff MVP, Cam Johnson, stopped 26 of 29 shots. On Sunday, Johnson stopped 26 of 27 shots and Vernon 26 of 28.

So, what did we learn? 

This South Division semifinal series isn’t going to be easy, not with Florida, the team that never seems to go away, getting the next three games at home. Then again, nothing in the South Division ever seems easy. Just ask the South Carolina Stingrays, who somehow missed the playoffs.

We also learned that the AHL always has an impact on the goings on in the ECHL. Had Calgary not released Wedman, who knows if that Game 2 victory would have materialized for Florida.

Speaking of which …

Wheeling Nailers And Indy Fuel Knotted At 1

The Wheeling Nailers evened their Central Division series with the Indy Fuel at 1, thanks to an eye-popping 7-1 victory at Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis on Saturday. 

There’s a possibility, albeit an unlikely one, that it was the Fuel’s final game there before moving to a new arena in Fishers, Indiana, next season.

The Nailers lost the opener 5-2, which had me a little nervous about picking Wheeling to win this series. But then the AHL helped matters. 

Defenseman Isaac Beliveau and forward Evan Vierling returned from Wilkes-Barre-Scranton before Game 2, and it’s fair to say, the Nailers looked like a totally different team. Vierling scored twice.

On the other hand, Wheeling goalies Taylor Gauthier and Garret Sparks remaining in the AHL has left Wheeling with only Jaxon Castor and a newly signed rookie, Ludvig Persson, in net. Indy has goaltender Mitchell Weeks, who was strong in Game 1, and Zach Driscoll, who was torched in Game 2.

Wheeling was 3-6-2 against Indy during the regular season. It just goes to show you, you can throw out a lot of numbers once the playoffs begin.

Speaking of which …

Toledo Walleye Up 2-0 On Kalamazoo Wings

The Toledo Walleye have a 2-0 lead over the Kalamazoo Wings in the other Central Division series. That may not seem all that surprising, until you remember the Wings were 9-3-1 against the division champions during the regular season.

The first two games were closely contested in some respects – Toledo won 3-2 in overtime when Brandon Hawkins dove to poke in the rebound of his own shot, then Game 2 was tied until a Sam Craggs natural hat trick in the third period (including an empty-netter) for a 5-2 victory – but Toledo has outshot Kalamazoo 93-51.

Toledo looks much more like the team that has won 16 straight games than the one that struggled against Kalamazoo during the regular season.

Speaking of which …

Kansas City Mavericks On Verge Of Eliminating Tulsa Oilers

The Kansas City Mavericks have a 3-0 lead over the Tulsa Oilers, which means the Mavericks have won 12 of their last 13 games. 

I’m certainly not surprised the regular-season champions have such a series lead, but it’s worth noting the Oilers squandered a two-goal lead in the 4-2 loss in Game 1, then coughed up an early lead in the 3-2 loss in Game 2.

What we know about the Mavericks has been reinforced: The roster is deep, they come in waves, they’re relentless and they can strike quickly.

On Saturday, the Mavericks won 3-1 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Patrick Curry had a goal and an assist.

Even if we haven’t even seen the opening game of the other Mountain Division series, between the Idaho Steelheads (who haven’t played since April 13) and the Allen Americans (who haven’t played since April 14), momentum is supposed to mean something when a team enters the playoffs, and the Mavericks are trotting along nicely.

Speaking of which …

Maine Mariners And Adirondack Thunder Tied In North Division Semifinals

The Maine Mariners are tied with the North Division-champion Adirondack Thunder at 1. 

Even though the Mariners lost 2-0 on Sunday, when Isaac Poulter had the 21-save shutout and Shane Harper scored both goals, Maine is giving Adirondack all it can handle.

If this series goes the distance, these teams will have played 11 consecutive games. That’s wild.

Maine gained a lot of confidence with a 4-3 overtime victory, capped by an Alex Kile goal, to get into the playoffs in the regular season’s final game. That game was in Glens Falls, New York, and so was Game 1 of the postseason, a 2-1 Maine victory, in which Tristan Ashbrook had the second-period game-winner, and Brad Arvanitis stopped 35 of 36 shots.

Things got heated late in Game 2, also in Glens Falls, where Adirondack’s Darian Skeoch and Maine’s Ty Cheveldayoff got into it at the final horn.

Speaking of which …

Norfolk Holds 2-1 Lead Over Trois-Rivières In Physical Series

The Norfolk Admirals have a 2-1 lead over the Trois-Rivières Lions in what has been a physical series. 

Game 1, a 4-2 Norfolk victory, was compelling theater, especially late in the third period, when Norfolk’s Dakota Krebs hit Nolan Yaremko in the knee. In the aftermath, Norfolk got the man-advantage and the power-play – and an empty-net goal from Brady Fleurent – to make it 3-1.

Since then, the tension has been palpable.

By the way, another great example of the AHL impact on these games: Norfolk’s Game 1 starter, Oskari Salminen, who stopped 33 of 35 shots, was called up to Manitoba. That left the Admirals to start Yaniv Perets, certainly no slouch, and he stopped 20 of 25 shots in a 5-4 loss and 24 of 25 in a 2-1 victory Saturday, cemented by a Josh McDougall goal.

Goaltending was a big difference between Games 2 and 3 for the Admirals.

Which brings me back to the South Division …

Orlando Solar Bears Outshine Division-Winning Greenville Swamp Rabbits In Series Opener

The Orlando Solar Bears opened their series with a 1-0 overtime victory over the division-champion Greenville Swamp Rabbits. 

Spencer Kersten had the winner with a quick shot from the right circle, and it was a relatively anticlimactic ending to an absolute goaltending show between Orlando’s Evan Fitzpatrick (43 saves) and Greenville’s Jacob Ingham (28 saves).

After squeaking into the playoffs with an 8-2-2 finish to the regular season, the Solar Bears have a real shot to pull the biggest upset of the first round. 

Whether it’s relevant or not, the Solar Bears were 5-1-1 against the Swamp Rabbits during the regular season, then showed a ton of grit on the road in the playoff opener.

Getting multi-faceted defenseman Jérémie Biakabutuka back from Springfield of the AHL in time for Game 1 certainly helped.

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