Put in a bind with a dismal third quarter against the visiting Florida Tropics on Saturday and a chance to clinch the Eastern Conference’s top seed, the Blast dug in.
They scored two unanswered goals in the fourth quarter and Juan Pereira needed just 14 seconds in overtime to give the Blast a thrilling 8-7 win over the Tropics before an announced 3,631 at Towson University’s SECU Area.
With the win, the Blast (17-4) earned the top spot in the Eastern Conference and finish a perfect 11-0 at home. They’ll close out the regular season at the Syracuse Silver Knights on March 4. From there, the Blast open the divisional playoffs against the second-place Silver Knights — Game 1 in Syracuse on March 8 with Game 2 and the mini-game (if necessary) at SECU Arena on March 11 with game time set for 5:05 p.m.
Pereira, who tied the game at 7 midway through the fourth quarter, saved his biggest goal for overtime. Vini Dantas (two assists) made a strong run with the ball to the right corner, sent a ball in the middle that found Pat Healey, who then found Pereira in front for the goal.
“We work for everybody and that’s who we are. We never give up,” said Pereira, who also had an assist to go with his two goals.
Andrew Hoxie led the Blast with two goals and two assists. Nine players had at least a goal or an assist as the Blast won their 10th one-goal game of the season.
After taking a 4-1 lead, the Blast faltered in the middle of the game. The Tropics took advantage, scoring six of the next seven goals — including four straight in the third quarter to take a 7-5 lead.
But the Blast was again resilient. Hoxie snuck a goal in along the right side to make it 7-6 in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. Pereira, in tight, flicked home a ball Hoxie dug out of the corner to tie the game at 7 with 6:50 left in regulation.
Going into the fourth quarter, having let a 4-1 lead slip away, Blast coach Danny Kelly urged his team to keep grinding, play simple and play hard. Good things followed. Kelly said the Blast believe they are never out of a game, and that has gone a long way for the team.
“It’s a very powerful thing,” Kelly said. “They believe in each other and they know if they work hard and they play smart they’ll give themselves a chance to win every game they play.”
Florida 1 2 4 0 0 — 7
Blast 1 4 0 2 1— 8
Scoring: 1. Blast, Melo, (Dantas), 3:59; 2. Florida, Teixeira, 10:04
Scoring: 3. Blast, Donatelli, (Dantas), :25; 4. Blast, Hoxie, (Pereira), 1:02; 5. Blast, Santana, (Donatelli), 7:16; 6. Florida, Diegues, (Montaleres), 11:05; 7. Florida, Moojen, (Parreiras), 12:50; 8. Blast, Hoxie, (Dos Santos), 14:22.
Scoring: 9. Florida, Moojen, 3:33; 10. Florida, Salles, (Parreiras), pp., 8:08; 11. Florida, Parreiras, 10:01; 12. Florida, Diegues, (Arico), 12:29
Scoring: 13. Blast, Hoxie, :47; 14. Blast, Pereira, (Hoxie), 8:10.
Scoring: 15. Blast, Pereira, (Healey), :14
Shots on goal: Florida 8-8-7-4-0 -- 27; Blast 5-9-11-10-1 — 37
Power-play opportunities: Florida 1-for-1; Blast 0-for-0.
Saves: Florida, Sliwa 3-4-6-4-0 -- 17; Blast, Kapinos 2-4-2-2-0 — 10
A — 3,631