Jeff Jakaitis was the best goalie in the ECHL a year ago.
Jakaitis’ MVP ability was on full display Wednesday night against the Florida Everblades.
Hunter Bishop scored two goals and Jakaitis stopped 39 shots to lead South Carolina past Florida, 3-2, before a crowd of 1,877 at the North Charleston Coliseum.
The Stingrays, winners of three straight and six of their last seven, improved to 26-23-4 (56 points) and moved in seventh place in the ECHL’s Eastern Conference. The Everblades fell to 24-17-9 (57 points).
A year ago, Jakaitis was named the ECHL’s goalie of the year, going 17-6-2 with a .930 save percentage and a 2.03 goals against average. Jakaitis was injured late in the year and wasn’t back to full strength this season until recently.
The former Lake Superior State standout has won three straight games for the Stingrays, giving up just four goals on 103 shots.
“Jeff is in a zone right now, he’s playing exceptional hockey and we’re going to ride him as long as we can,” said South Carolina Stingrays coach Spencer Carbery.
“Jeff was unbelievable. He was outstanding. He was tracking the puck very well. He made a couple of huge saves in the third period. His rebound control was fantastic. He was extremely sharp tonight and we owe the two points to him.”
Jakaitis, who improved to 7-4-2 on the season, isn’t sure if he’s playing as well as he did last year, but he’s not going to complain.
“I feel good and I’m seeing the puck well,” Jakaitis said. “The guys are doing a great job clearing pucks and keeping most of the shots on the perimeter. It feels good to be playing and you get into a kind of rhythm and try to take it one game at a time.”
The 41 shots Jakaitis faced were a season high as were the 39 saves he made, including the final 22 of the game.
“I like to see a lot of shots, it keeps me in the game,” Jakaitis said. “Obviously, there’s a certain level and the kind of shots, but I thought for the most part we did a good job of keeping the shots to the outside. I had pretty good rebound control, so I was pretty focused.”
The Stingrays played one of their best first periods of the season and grabbed a 1-0 lead on Scooter Vaughan’s second goal of the season.
“Great first period, we stuck to our gameplan, and really controlled the flow of play,” Carbery said. “We did everything right.”
But after Bishop gave the Stingrays a 2-0 lead early in the second period, it was all Everblades, who outshot the Stingrays, 31-12, over the final 39 minutes of the game.
“The last two periods we got away from our gameplan and we looked flat,” said Bishop, who notched his 22nd and 23rd goals of the season. “I think we got away with one, but we’ll take points any way we can get them at this point in the season.”
Florida 0 2 0—2
Stingrays 1 1 1—3
First Period: 1. SC, Vaughan 2 (Brodie, Gaul), 5:47. Penalties: No Penalties.
Second Period: 2. SC, Bishop 22 (Cross, Dee), 0:49. 3. F, Roy 19 (Pistilli, Ratchuk), 9:40. 4. F, Sutter 7 (Schmitz , Milan), 16:58. Penalties: Elser, SC (bench - too many men), 2:30; Irwin, F (cross-checking), 13:08; Dame-Malka, F (double - roughing), 17:15; Cherniwchan, SC (double - roughing), 17:15; Salters, F (interference on the goalkeeper), 18:53.
Third Period: 5. SC, Bishop 23 (Vidmar, Foam), 16:34. Penalties: Beca, SC (holding), 10:18.
Shots on Goal: Stingrays 9-8-5-22; Florida: 10-14-17-41. Penalties: Stingrays 4-8; Florida 4-8. Power Play: Stingrays 0 for 2; Florida 0 for 2. Goalies: Stingrays – Jeff Jakaitis (7-4-2) 41 shots, 39 saves. Florida – Pat Nagle (12-7-2) 22 shots, 19 saves. Att: 1,877.