The South Carolina Stingrays are alive.
The hockey club took charge early in a must-win game on the Florida Everblades’ home ice on June 13, winning 4-2 to force a winner-takes-all Game 5 in the ECHL Eastern Conference semifinals.
The winner of Monday night’s decisive game at Hertz Arena in Estero, Florida, will advance to the Eastern Conference finals, with a chance to play for the Kelly Cup in the ECHL championship series.
“It’s gonna be exciting,” said Stingrays coach Ryan Blair, whose club won its last six regular-season matches to secure the last of four playoff berths in the Eastern Conference. “We’ve got a great locker room, a great bunch of guys that have played in big moments before.
“We’re playing on the road, so there are no distractions. If we do what we did tonight, we feel like we’ll give ourselves a good chance.”
Andrew Cherniwchan and Mark Cooper each scored twice for the Stingrays, who asserted themselves early with three goals in the first period after absorbing a 5-1 beating in Game 3 a night earlier.
“We did a much better job of managing the game tonight,” Blair said. “In Game 3, we were not very sharp, especially in the second period, and I thought the guys responded really well to some things we talked about and just put a little more action into things.”
Cherniwchan scored on the power play just 3:19 into the game, assisted by Max Gottlieb and Matthew Weis.
Cooper made it 2-0 at 12:02 of the first, scoring at equal strength off an assist from Dan DeSalvo.
Cooper scores his 2nd goal of the night and advances the Rays further 😃 pic.twitter.com/EEssWU1UVK
— X – SC Stingrays (@SCStingrays) June 13, 2021Just 90 seconds later, Cherniwchan scored again for a 3-0 lead, with Zach Maltesta and Caleb Herbert credited with assists.
The Everblades, the top seed in the Eastern Conference, finally got on the board at 8:20 of the second period, Alex Kile finding the net to cut the gap to 3-1.
But Cooper got the goal back at 12:22 for a 4-1 advantage. That proved crucial, as Florida’s Joe Pendenza got it to 4-2 with an equal-strength goal with 7:11 left in the game.
Stingrays goalie Hunter Shepard had 29 saves after the club had allowed 10 goals in the previous two games.
“He’s been great all playoffs, to be honest,” Blair said. “He’s probably wanted a couple back, but at the end of the day, he’s been unbelievable. He’s a big reason we’re in the position that we are in.”
The teams split the first two games of the series at the Carolina Ice Palace in North Charleston, with the Stingrays winning the opener 3-2 in overtime. Florida took a 5-0 lead in the second game before holding off a furious rally by South Carolina, which scored four goals in 10 minutes of the third period before taking a 5-4 loss.
Game 5 is set for 7:30 p.m. June 14, again on Florida’s home ice. If the Stingrays can knock off Florida, the ECHL’s top team during the regular season, they will face Greenville in the Eastern Conference finals.
“There’s no better team we’d like to face in the first round,” Blair said. “It’s typically South Carolina and Florida meeting in the playoffs at some point, so it’s great to face them right away.”
Reach Jeff Hartsell at 843-937-5596. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC