If you’re looking for a phrase to describe the last four periods for the Florida Everblades, goaltender Jake Hildebrand says the team uses the term “Bend, don’t break” which couldn’t be anymore accurate. The Everblades began their home-ice advantage Saturday after playing the last two games at the Carolina Ice Palace, which Hildebrand admitted wasn’t easy for anybody, including himself. Florida has won the past two games without John McCarron, their captain and leading scorer, in the lineup. “It’s an opportunity to rally and have someone else step up and shows the depth of our team,” said Head Coach Brad Ralph.
Levko Koper Get’s First Hat-Trick of Kelly Cup Playoffs
The Florida Everblades would start Saturday’s game on the wrong side of the scoreboard, as Justin Florek would take a nice feed from Andrew Cherniwchan and put it behind Hilderbrand to give the Stingrays a 1-0 lead just two minutes in. It wouldn’t take long for Florida to respond, as Stefan Leblanc would score from the point while on the power play. This would be the second straight game that the Everblades would convert with the man-advantage. “There’s a number of factors that we’re trying to win every game and special teams is one of them,” Coach Ralph said after the game. That power play goal would be the turning point for Florida, as they wouldn’t look back and overtake the Stingrays early on in the second. That saw Blake Winiecki fire a shot from the left circle that would beat Hunter Shepard to give the Everblades a 2-1 advantage.
Not long after Florida’s second goal, all eyes would be on Levko Koper, and rightfully so, as he finished the night with a natural hat-trick. The Edmonton Native would find a rebound at the 6:03 mark to pad their one-goal lead and make it 3-1 Everblades. It wouldn’t take Koper long to find the mesh again, as at the 9:13 mark, he would race off on a breakaway and made no mistake for his second goal of the night. Up 4-1 in the dying minutes of the middle frame, this one had similar feelings to that of Game 2, when they led 5-0 after two periods of play. However, Koper said heading into Game 3, they had to use Game 2 as one of those to forget, and that’s exactly what they did. With just over 10 minutes left in the third, Koper would finish off his hat trick, stealing the puck from Zach Malatesta and beating Shepard for a third time. A shower of hats was next to follow in celebration.
“I think the team is just coming together, so I’m kinda riding that, playing with good line-mates and I guess the puck is just finding the back of the net right now,” said the 6’1 left-winger. Hildebrand made 18 saves in the final frame, while amassing 34 throughout the match to pick up the victory. The Everblades can close out their series on Sunday, as puck drop is scheduled for 6:00pmET. When asked what the team has to do Sunday in order to advance, Brad Ralph said, “I think we just have to get off to a great start.” He added that they’ve done what they wanted to do and have to come out in Game 4 and put their best effort on display.