The Florida Everblades came north to start a seven-game road trip on Wednesday, and must have felt at home with temperatures better suited to the Southeastern USA in December rather than the Northeast.
Too bad the Reading Royals felt even more comfortable despite a sparse crowd visibly less than the 2,281 announced, and walked away with a 4-2 victory thanks to a three-goal second period.
Adam Comrie, David Marshall and Denny Urban lit the lamp in the deciding period for the Royals (14-7-1), who will play back-to-back road games at Elmira this weekend. Yannick Tifu assisted on two scores and Stan Galiev added an insurance marker.
Named the ECHL’s best goaltender for the month of November, Philipp Grubauer stood firm once more and shook off any hint of an award jinx, stopping 28-of-30 shots.
“I want to congratulate Phil on a great month,” said Royals head coach Larry Courville. “He played very well and certainly kept us in games that maybe we shouldn’t have been, but I hope he continues to play at that level going forward.”
Brayden Irwin and Taylor Ellington picked up goals for the Everblades (8-8-5), who continue their trek in Wheeling on Friday and Saturday. Pat Nagle endured some bad luck in defeat after allowing four goals on 38 shots.
Comrie snapped the scoreless deadlock at 5:40 of the second period, as he cruised into the slot and redirected a slick Tifu feed for his sixth goal of the year and third in as many games.
Irwin equalized at 8:44 on Brett Flemming’s second penalty of the game, taking a quick cross-ice pass from Justin Shugg and lifting it under the crossbar from the left side just before a diving Grubauer knocked the net off its moorings.
It was 2-1 for the hosts at the 11:42 mark on a power play as Barry Almeida fed up the left wing for Marshall, who glided into the Florida zone, used two teammates as decoys, and fired a successful wrister high and to the short side. Marshall now has an eight-game point streak (4G, 9A).
Reading then went up by two with four minutes even remaining in the middle period, as Urban used a tricky shot from the left circle off a 4-on-2 rush to sneak the puck through the left armpit of Nagle. Tifu got the rush started back in his own zone from a broken-up Everblades bid on the Royals’ net, then fed to Comrie, who held in the middle long enough for the defenseman to slide into position.
Galiev pushed the Royals’ edge to 4-1 with 4:40 remaining, beating Nagle cleanly on a breakaway after a forced turnover.
Ellington brought the visitors within two in the final 120 seconds, and the Royals had to endure a 6-on-4 situation after being nabbed for a bench minor with 48.3 seconds remaining.
The hosts committed two infractions late in the opening period, but a little luck and some good defense kept the game scoreless. On the latter call, ‘Blades forward David Rutherford rang a shot off the post from the left point, and Grubauer made a sweeping glove save on a Brody Sutter one-timer from the high slot.
“To do that against the best, second-best power-play in the league, it was a big thing for us. We’re going to look to build on that in the second,” said Tifu during the first intermission.
His words rang true. Echoed through the largely empty venue was more like it.
Notes: Comrie has scored a goal in three straight games, and a tumble taken during his celebration cost him $25…Grubauer has won 11 of his last 12 starts…Florida went 2-2-2 on its previous road trip from November 15-24…Reading returns home on December 14-15 by hosting Fort Wayne and Orlando…The Royals pulled within two points of the top team in the East, the Gwinnett Gladiators, who will come to Berks County for back-to-back games on December 21-22.