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Vail's shorty helps earn Solar Bears' series-tying victory

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Solar Bears' first-round series against the Florida Everblades ties at 2-2, with help from two goals by Marlies prospect Brady Vail, including one on the PK.

Brady Vail celebrates one of his two goals
Brady Vail celebrates one of his two goals
Linda Hamilton

Toronto Marlies prospect Brady Vail helped lift the Solar Bears to a 4-3 victory over the Florida Everblades with two goals Thursday night, evening up the playoff series at two wins apiece as the teams head into a fifth game at Amway center this Saturday.

Vail’s first goal put the Solar Bears ahead by one from the 2-2 tie coming out of the second period. It came during the opening minutes of a hard-fought third that began with the Solar Bears on the penalty kill, and Vail sending in a short-handed goal on a sweet corner pass from Trenton Devils prospect Ben Johnson.

This magic between Vail and Johnson on the kill was no fluke. "Me and Johnson, we played together for three years in Juniors," Vail said of his teammate from the Windsor Spitfires, "So you know we have some chemistry, and he did a good job on the forecheck, and just pretty much gave me a wide-open shot in the slot."

Vail worked with Johnson on a lot of penalty kill units in their junior league, joking that they were together for "Every single one. We killed every single one tonight too, me and him." Although the Solar Bears didn’t capitalize on any of their own power plays on Thursday, they also held the Everblades scoreless due to the PK unit’s effort.

Vail’s skill at the PK comes from the philosophy that a man advantage actually gives teams a looser, less focused defensive play. "The way I look at the penalty kill, they have an extra guy, so they’re a little bit nonchalant, that’s the way it is. They don’t play as hard when they have an extra guy, so if you can pick up and bear down and get the puck out of your zone, that’s when they start cheating for offense, and you get the chance to score short handed. We had a good turnover tonight, and a great play by one of our guys."

The game-winning goal that earned Vail first star of the game came half way through the third, with Vail scoring on his own rebound after a pass from Johnny McInnis. "The second one was a good bounce that came back onto my stick, and that’s the way the game goes, and that happened in the third period. We found a way to win, that’s the good part," Vail said.

Anyone who attended Tuesday’s rough-and-annoyed playoff match between the Everblades and Solar Bears could tell you that Thursday’s rematch was between two altered hockey teams. It was clear that both teams had gone beyond sick of each other into sheer driven competition, and that’s what we saw -- a lot of good hockey with many fewer roughing penalties and only a little post-whistle jawing.

Toronto Marlies prospect Brett Findlay, who evened the score to 2-2 in the last minute of the second period, admitted that the team’s focus was on playing more cleanly. "We wanted to stay out of the stuff after the whistle. The ref stated at the start of the game that he didn’t want stuff after the whistle whatsoever, but we did a great job of finishing our checks, and playing between the whistles. We don’t want to change too much come Saturday. Guys are starting to believe in the room that we can do this."

As opposed to Tuesday’s game, the goaltending did not steal the show. Possession looked remarkably even, with the number of shots mounting in the Solar Bears’ direction for a good portion of the game. The first and second periods both ended with a tied score, including a goal in the first by Marshall Everson to tie the game at 1-1. Shots ended at 40 - 33, Everblades, with goaltender Garret Sparks saving 37 of the 40 shots.

The team is excited about continuing this effort as they head into their last game of the series at Amway Center this coming Saturday before heading back to Everblades territory.