In the playoffs, your best players have to be your best players.
Few wouldn’t agree that Maxime Lacroix was the best player on the ice Sunday for the Stingrays.
Lacroix scored two goals, including the game-winner with 3:08 left in double-overtime, and added two assists to lead South Carolina past Gwinnett, 4-3, in Game 4 of their Kelly Cup Eastern Conference quarterfinal series in Duluth, Ga.
The Stingrays clinched the best-of-5 series, 3-1, and will face Kalamazoo in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Game 1 of the best-of-7 is Friday in Kalamazoo, Mich. Game 2 is Saturday and then the series shifts to South Carolina for Game 3 on April 18.
After Friday’s 4-3 quadruple-OT victory over Gwinnett in Game 3, Stingrays coach Spencer Carbery sat down with his top line — Lacroix, Chris Higgins and Daniel Koger — for a little chat.
“I thought they were very average in Game 3,” Carbery said. “I wanted to challenge them. I told them that if we were going to win the series, they had to be our best players. If you’re going to win in the playoffs, your skill guys have to be at their best and I didn’t think that line was all that great.”
Message received.Lacroix finished with four points and had a team-high 12 shots on goal, Higgins had a goal and two assists and Koger chipped in two assists.
“They dominated almost every shift they were on the ice,” Carbery said. “They were unbelievable. Max really led the charge. He was flying around the ice.”
Lacroix knew that his line got away with a sub-par performance in Game 3 and was determined to make up for it in Game 4.
“In Game 3 we didn’t make the simple plays, we didn’t do a good job in the neutral zone,” Lacroix said. “We had much better puck movement (Sunday) than we did in Game 3. When you win in the playoffs your top line has to make a difference and I think we did today.”
Lacroix’s game-winning goal came off a beautiful pass from Higgins.
Rookie Stingrays goalie Rob Madore was solid again, stopping 39 of 42 shots, to pick up in second win of the series.
“Rob was outstanding again for us, especially in the overtime period,” Carbery said. “He made some very difficult saves.”
Stingrays0 2 1 0 1—4Gwinnett 0 2 1 0 0—3
First Period: No goals. Penalties: Koger, SC (hooking), 7:22; Brandt G, (roughing), 19:18.
Second Period: 1. SC, Flemming 1 (O’Brien, Lacroix), 4:35. 2. G, Kashirsky 1 (Jackson, Brutlag), 13:36. 3. SC, Lacroix 2 (Higgins, Tarkir), 14:05. 4. G, Kashirsky 2 (Cheverie), 16:54. Penalties: Haddad, G (hooking), 3:59; Dorr, SC (slashing ), 12:04; Cherniwchan, SC (slashing ), 15:31.
Third Period: 5. SC, Higgins 1 (Lacroix, Koger), 1:30. 6. G, Colbert 1 (Jackson, Brandt), 18:20. Penalties: Haddad, G (tripping), 15:56.
Overtime: No goals. Penalties: No penalties.
Second Overtime: Penalties: 7. SC, Lacroix 3 (Higgins, Koger), 16:52. Penalties: Arcibal, SC (delay of game), 12:58.
Shots on Goal: Stingrays 9-13-9-7-13-51; Gwinnett: 8-12-7-12-3-42. Penalties: Stingrays 4-8; Gwinnett 3-6. Power Play: Stingrays 1 for 3; Gwinnett 2 for 4. Goalies: Stingrays – Rob Madore (2-0-0) 42 shots, 39 saves. Gwinnett – Marc Cheverie (1-2-0) 51 shots, 47 saves. A: 2,652.