2024 Florida Everblades vs Adirondack Thunder

Florida Vs. Adirondack: ECHL Kelly Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Finals

Florida Vs. Adirondack: ECHL Kelly Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Finals

The Florida Everblades, winners of the last two Kelly Cup championships, are back in the Eastern Conference Finals and will face the Adirondack Thunder.

May 15, 2024 by Justin Cohn
Florida Vs. Adirondack: ECHL Kelly Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Finals

The Florida Everblades, winners of the last two Kelly Cup championships, are back in the Eastern Conference Finals and will face the Adirondack Thunder in a best-of-seven series.

The Everblades are coming off a 4-1 series victory over the Orlando Solar Bears in the South Division Finals, on the heels of a 4-3 victory over the Jacksonville Icemen. 

The Thunder won the North Division Finals 4-2 over the Norfolk Admirals, after downing the Maine Mariners in seven games.

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Eastern Conference Finals

Adirondack Thunder (43-18-11) Vs. Florida Everblades (40-23-9)

Game 1 - Friday, May 17 at 7 p.m. ET at Adirondack
Game 2 - Saturday, May 18 at 7 p.m. ET at Adirondack
Game 3 - Wednesday, May 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET at Florida
Game 4 - Friday, May 24 at 7:30 p.m. ET at Florida
Game 5 - Saturday, May 25 at 7 p.m. ET at Florida (If Necessary)
Game 6 - Tuesday, May 28 at 7 p.m. ET at Adirondack (If Necessary)
Game 7 - Wednesday, May 29 at 7 p.m. ET at Adirondack (If Necessary)

Adirondack And Florida Top Scorers

Adirondack’s Tristan Ashbrook had 32 goals and 57 points during the regular season – not bad for a rookie cut by the Fort Wayne Komets during training camp (though he was injured and only skated a couple of days). In the playoffs, he has seven goals and 13 points. Teammate Shane Harper has five goals and 13 points in the playoffs. 

Florida’s Oliver Chau had 26 goals and 60 points in the regular season, while playoff scoring has been led by Bobo Carpenter with five goals and 10 points, Matthew Wedman with three goals and 10 points, and Josh Ho-Sang with 10 assists.

What You Need To Know About The Adirondack Thunder

This Thunder team gets full points for resiliency. I – and probably most of the ECHL world – thought the Thunder were toast when they dropped the first two games, at home, to the Admirals. But then the Thunder rattled off four straight victories in the North Division Finals.

I wrote heading into that series that the X-factor was going to be coaching, and that it was.  

Adirondack’s Pete MacArthur did a great job getting his team motivated for Game 3 at Norfolk, Virginia, and that was no small task. 

The Thunder took seven games to oust the Maine Mariners in the first round and looked beleaguered heading into Game 3, after giving up 12 goals in the opening two games. And Norfolk hadn’t had a home playoff game there since 2015 – in a whole other league – and that made for a tough atmosphere. 

Then, Game 3 went to overtime, before Adirondack’s Ryan Smith ended it after a wicked Travis Broughman pass from behind the net for a 2-1 victory.

The series wasn’t close after that, with the possible exception of a 2-1 victory in Game 5 in Norfolk, capped by another Smith goal late in the third period. Smith represents something about the Thunder – opportunistic, if not overwhelming, offense.

Norfolk’s Jeff Carr was my pick for ECHL Coach of the Year during the regular season – an award that went to Greenville’s Andrew Lord (ousted in first round by Orlando), who was followed in voting by Kansas City’s Tad O’Had (still playing), MacArthur, Toledo’s Pat Mikesch (still playing) and Jacksonville’s Nick Luukko (ousted in first round by Florida).

Carr did a great job in the first round against Trois-Rivières, and that was a difficult, physical series, but his team looked overconfident as it squandered a two-game lead heading into three home games. And there was a significant blunder in Game 6: Carr handed in an incorrect lineup card, and Gehrett Sargis had to leave the game, leaving the Admirals to play a man short. 

No excuse for that, especially in an age where teams have assistant coaches to make sure sloppy mistakes like that aren’t made. (As an aside, isn’t it weird that in 2024, we’re still using hand-written lineup cards? Surely there’s an app to avoid these types of mistakes).

Adirondack, which won the North Division title during the regular season, has been on a steady upswing since squeaking into the 2023 playoffs the final weekend of the season and then getting bounced in the first round by the Newfoundland Growlers in five games. 

The Thunder play a gritty game – they will hit opponents – have gotten amazing goaltending – particularly from Isaac Poulter – and make teams work for everything.

What You Need To Know About The Florida Everblades

This may not be as talented as the Everblades teams that won the Cup in 2022 and 2023, but it’s every bit as resilient. Since falling behind 3-1 to the Icemen, the Everblades have won 7 of 8 games.

And, if I’m going to laud the coaches in the North Division, how can I not do the same for the Everblades’ Brad Ralph? He just checks all the boxes – from roster construction to lineup decisions to adjustments – like no one else in the ECHL.

The top line of Oliver Chau, Matthew Wedman and Josh Ho-Sang is so good that it would do some damage in the AHL. 

Chau is one of the most exciting players in the league and has shown over the last 16 months or so that he’s at his best when the stakes are highest. 

Wedman, who was acquired at the trade deadline from Fort Wayne, has a big body, likes to go to the hard areas and brings leadership intangibles. 

Ho-Sang still has the elite skills that made him a first-round NHL draft pick; he’s strong on the puck, has great vision and is unselfish.

The nice thing about the Florida offense, though, is that it has so many players who can be slapped on the top line and fit just fine. Bobo Carpenter, for example, or Sean Josling or Logan Lambdin.

Joe Pendenza, a staple of the Florida lineup since 2019, is a player Ralph has really built around because he contributes in so many ways.

The defense was a concern during the regular season, but it’s allowing only 2.25 goals per game in the playoffs – Cam Johnson in net helps – and I have no worries about it now. 

Zach Berzolla was a big trade-deadline pickup, Cole Moberg has been playing exceedingly well (check out this series-winning pass to Carpenter as Florida beat Orlando 2-1 in Game 5).

This series is formatted 2-3-2, starting in Glens Falls, New York, but the Everblades have a long history of playoff success on the road and will not be fazed by that. The Everblades are 5-2 on the road in these playoffs and won all four series last year without having home-ice advantage a single time.

Adirondack is 3-4-0 at home in these playoffs.

For what it’s worth, these teams met six times during the regular season, and Florida won four of them, including all three in Estero, Florida, when the teams last met in February.

Two Players To Watch In Adirondack-Florida Series

You can’t ask for a much better goaltending matchup than the one that will be in this series: Adirondack’s Isaac Poulter vs. Florida’s Cam Johnson.

If we were voting for Playoff MVP today, I have to believe Poulter would win it. His record may only be 6-5, but he’s got a 1.74 goals-against average (best among goalies with more than six games played), a .940 save percentage (first) and a league-best three shutouts (all against Maine). 

Against Norfolk, he was 3-2 with a 2.59 GAA and .924 SP; Jeremy Brodeur looked great in the Game 4 win, stopping 36 of 38 shots in a 5-2 victory.

Poulter spent much of the season in the AHL with the Utica Comets, and you can see the 22-year-old’s potential for the future. He’s also about to get a look at one of the best who has ever done it at this level: Johnson.

Johnson, 29, was the ECHL’s Playoff MVP the last two years and looks tremendous again. 

In the postseason, he’s 8-4 with 1.94 GAA (second), a .933 SP (second) and a shutout – in Game 7 against Jacksonville. Against the Solar Bears, he was 4-1 with a 1.92 GAA and a .934 SP.

While it wouldn’t be shocking to see Brodeur get some work in this series – one could argue he’s the best backup of the remaining teams – there’s a noticeable drop off from Johnson to David Tendeck.

Both Poulter and Johnson have proven in these playoffs they can steal games. Johnson has a long track record of doing that, while Poulter is just now building his résumé.

X-Factor For Adirondack-Florida Series

Ryan Wheeler.

He’s one of the great stories of these playoffs. One of my favorite defensemen in the ECHL during the regular season because of his willingness to block shots, play physically and join the offensive rush, Wheeler was pressed into action as a forward in late March and has stuck there. For some stretches, he’s been their best forward, but he had only one assist against Norfolk to give him four goals and five points in the postseason.

The Thunder’s top line – Shane Harper, Tristan Ashbrook and Yushiro Hirano – is about on par with the Florida top line of Chau, Wedman and Ho-Sang, but Adirondack is going to have to get a lot of offense from its second- and third-line players to keep up with Florida. 

Some of the Thunder forwards, such as Filip Engarås, who had a hat trick in the 5-1 series clincher against Norfolk, and Smith, who has three game-winning goals in the postseason, I’m not worried about. 

If Wheeler can put up some points by wreaking havoc in the offensive zone, it could turn the tide in Adirondack’s favor, or at least take the pressure off the Thunder defense and goalies.

Adirondack Thunder Vs. Florida Everblades Prediction

If you look at these teams on paper, they’re very similar. They score and allow about the same number of goals. Both power plays have struggled and both penalty kills have been, meh. Both play physically but go to the penalty box too often. Both have goalies who have been standing on their heads. Both are well-coached.

Florida had a bit more rest, though both teams had seven-game first-round series. Adirondack has home-ice advantage. Florida is great on the road. But stats only take you so far. 

There’s the eye test, and the Everblades look much more formidable. 

For the last eight games, save for one, Florida has looked close to the behemoth that won the last two Kelly Cups. I see the Everblades in a much different lens than I did coming into the postseason, when I thought they’d lose in the first round to Jacksonville. 

Against Orlando, a team that had been firing on all cylinders, the series was never really in doubt. Whatever magic Florida conjured in 2022 and 2023, it feels like the beginnings of it again.

Adirondack, meanwhile, deserves full marks for resiliency and is riding a lot of momentum, but Norfolk helped matters along with mistakes, and as recently as Saturday afternoon, I wouldn’t have thought – based on what I’d be seeing in the playoffs – the Thunder had much of a chance of getting to the Kelly Cup Finals.

While I don’t feel great about predicting a short series, because a resilient team like Adirondack can be a dangerous one, my eyes have been telling me that Florida will overpower the Thunder and win in five games.

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