by Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
Dustin Johner gave the Florida Everblades life Thursday evening. Then he delivered an historic Game 7.
Johner, acquired by the Panthers in 2005, scored two short-handed goals, including the game-winner, to give the Everblades a 6-3 victory over the Dayton Bombers in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) playoffs.
Johner’s heroics force a Game 7 tonight here at Germain Arena in Estero. It will be the first in the franchise’s nine-year history. A victory would send the Panthers’ ECHL affiliate to the Kelly Cup championship against Idaho.
“It’s a huge game for us,” said Johner, a 5-11, 178-pound right winger. “To come back from being two goals down and force a Game 7 is exciting.”
Although originally drafted by the Panthers in 2001, Johner signed with Calgary as a free agent in 2004. In December of 2005, the Panthers called to tell Johner he had been acquired along with defenseman Steve Montador.
“It’s sort of come full circle for me,” Johner said.
Before a passionate crowd of 5,301 of fans here at Germain Arena, the Everblades fought back from a two-goal deficit in the first period and two, one-goal deficits in the second and third periods.
Johner provided the Everblades with a spark in the opening minute of the second period when he wristed a shot past Bombers goalie Adam Berkhoel to tie the game at two.
Despite falling behind 3-2 later in the period, the Everblades tied the game again at 16:56 with a goal from Derek Damon. Then at 11:14 of the final period, Johner broke down the wing on a two-on-one and once again wristed the shot past Berkhoel for the game winner.
“The whole building erupted,” said Everblades coach Gerry Fleming.
The Everblades have become a force in the ECHL. They’ve made the playoffs all nine seasons in the league, HAD gone twice to the Kelly Cup Finals, and had won the Brabham Cup for finishing the season as the ECHL point leaders.
They entered the playoffs after finishing first in the in the South Division with a record of 44-22-6 and 94 points.
Johner had 29 goals (64 points) during the regular season and has scored seven goals for the Everblades during the playoffs.
Other players signed or drafted by the Panthers include:
Franklin MacDonald, a 6-0, 198-pound defenseman signed in September by the Panthers as a free agent, had four goals and 20 assists during the regular season.
Right winger David Brine, signed by the Panthers as an unrestricted free agent in September, had nine goals, 21 assists and finished the regular season with a Plus-4. Brine was called up four times to the Rochester Americans, the Panthers’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate.
Center Adam Taylor, scored 21 goals with the Everblades in 37 games.