Preparations for the Florida Everblades' second-round playoff series began the minute they closed out their opening-round series on Sunday.
The Blades face the South Carolina Stingrays in the division finals series at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Germain Arena.
During the first-round series with the Gwinnett Gladiators, it was obvious the Everblades were the better team. They were faster, more physical, deeper and had better goaltending.
"Against Gwinnett, at the end of the day, we just had too many weapons and a lot more game breakers," said Blades coach Malcolm Cameron.
South Carolina, on the other hand, matches up well against the Everblades.
"South Carolina is a very similar team to us," Cameron said of the Blades' next opponent. "They play a lot of the same systems and have a lot of the same attributes - they have good goaltending, big, strong, mobile defensemen and good depth up front. They are well coached, so they are kind of a mirror image of us."
Looking at the regular-season series, the 'Rays and Blades split their 12 games, with the Blades losing one in overtime. Although the Blades finished 13 points ahead of the Stingrays in the standings, the division title was still up for grabs until the final month. Four of the games were decided by one goal, seven were decided by at least three goals and the Blades have the edge in scoring 42-41 overall.
While the Blades had the league's best offense, power play, and goaltender in the league, the Stingrays weren't far behind, finishing second in all of those categories.
Blades David Leggio and Kevin Baker led the league in goals-against average and total points, respectively, but the Stingrays have impressive stars of their own in forward Travis Morin (88 points, 3rd) and goaltender Jonathan Boutin (5th, 2.61 GA).
Both also finished in the top five of the league on the power play and penalty kills.
Adding it all up, there is little question that the Everblades will find it much harder getting through the Stingrays and making it to the American Conference finals.
"I've broken down all 12 games we played this year," said Cameron. "Both teams gave up a lot of goals; both teams' penalty kill wasn't very good over the series We have a certain game plan that we know we have to stick to if we want to be successful against them.
"To beat them we will have to be physical and bring our A game," he added. "We can't have anybody take a shift off and it will be the same with them - if one of us takes a shift off we know the other will score - it's that simple."
Of course, knowing the game plan and executing the game plan are two different things. So far, the Blades have been executing their game plan to near perfection.
One thing is certain. however. The Stingrays won't go away as easily as the Gladiators did.