The problem for South Carolina Stingrays goalie Philipp Grubauer is that he makes everything look so easy.
Grubauer stopped 27 shots and Matt Scherer got the game- winner early in the third period to lead South Carolina past Cincinnati, 3-1, Sunday afternoon before a crowd of 3,689 at the North Charleston Coliseum.
The Stingrays (34-24-6, 74 points) remain in sixth place in the ECHL's Eastern Conference. The Cyclones (29-23-9, 67 points) fell to seventh place.
From the beginning of the season, Stingrays head coach Spencer Carbery said that Grubauer probably deserved to be playing in the American Hockey League. The Washington Capitals' fourth-round draft pick has been called up to the AHL just once and has yet to play for Hershey, the Capitals' AHL affiliate this season.
Carbery isn't complaining.
There are times when Carbery can only shake his head in amazement at some of the saves the talented rookie makes and how he makes very difficult saves look routine.
Grubauer's skill was on full display against the Cyclones. Grubauer made a sprawling pad save on Anthony Luciani during a Cyclones power play in the first period and barely broke a sweat making several stops on bouncing pucks.
"The problem with Philipp is that we've come to expect that kind of performance from him every game," Carbery said. "The one save he made at the end of the first period on the back door was one of his best all season. I think we kind of take him for granted because he keeps us in games that sometimes we might not deserve to get two points. He earned those two points for us tonight."
Grubauer has embraced his time in the ECHL and steadily worked to improve on an already impressive skill set.
"You want to play at the highest level you can play at, but being here has helped me overall as a player," Grubauer said. "I've gotten to play much more down here in South Carolina than I would have in Hershey, and at this point in my career that's important."
Scherer went from zero to hero in less than three minutes. With the Stingrays leading 1-0 early in the third period, Scherer checked Cincinnati captain Mathieu Aubin from behind. Scherer was called for a boarding penalty that give the Cyclones a 5-on-3 advantage for more than a minute.
Cincinnati wasted little time with its two-man advantage as David MacDonald scored to tie the game at 1 with 15 minutes left in regulation.
Less than three minutes later, Scherer crashed the net and slammed home a Tyler Shelast rebound on what would turn out to be the game-winner.
First Period: 1. SC, Koger 9 (Pereira, Tarkir), 17:57. Penalties: MacDonald, C (high sticking), 15:39; Stevenson, SC (cross checking), 18:39.
Second Period: No goals. Penalties: Aubin, C (roughing), 18:42; Flemming, SC (roughing), 18:42.
Third Period: 2. C, MacDonald 1 (Edwards, Pelech), 3:40. 3. SC, Scherer 7 (Shelast, O'Brien), 5:34. 4. SC, Ryan 5 (Tarkir), 19:46. Penalties: Stevenson, SC (tripping), 2:18; Scherer, SC (boarding), 3:04; Arcibal, SC (high sticking), 7:29.
Shots on Goal: Stingrays 6-7-8-21; Cincinnati: 9-13-6-28. Penalties: Stingrays 5-10; Cincinnati 2-4. Power Play: Stingrays 0 for 1; Cincinnati 1 for 4. Goalies: Stingrays - Grubauer (23-13-5) 28 shots, 27 saves. Cincinnati - Foster (12-6-2) 20 shots, 18 saves. Att: 3,689.
Daniel Koger, who was acquired from Cincinnati in a trade that involved defenseman Nick Tabisz, scored the game's first goal with less than three minutes left in the opening period.
"I remember as a player it was always nice to score against your old team, especially one that traded you away," Carbery said. "I know Daniel still has a lot of friends on their bench."
Matt Pope (Hershey), Maxime Lacroix (Hershey) and Sean Dolan (Charlotte) are currently called up to the American Hockey League.
Goalie Daren Machesney (lower body) and forwards Chris Higgins (upper body), Greg Stewart (upper body) and David de Kastrozza (lower body) and Mike Hamilton (lower body) are out of the lineup with injuries.
The Stingrays are 20-11-2 at home and 14-13-4 on the road this season.
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