The South Carolina Stingrays played their best game of the series against Gwinnett in Game 4 Friday night.
But the Stingrays’ best still wasn’t good enough to beat the Gladiators.
Joey Haddad and Evan Bloodoff each scored during a 75-second span in the second period and Louis Domingue stopped 40 shots to lead Gwinnett past South Carolina, 4-3, in Game 4 of the ECHL’s Eastern Conference quarterfinal.
With the victory, the Gladiators swept the Stingrays, 4-0, in the best-of-seven series. The Gladiators will face the winner of the Cincinnati-Toledo series in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Gladiators avenged last year’s loss to the Stingrays in the opening round of the Kelly Cup playoffs.
The Stingrays outworked, outhustled and outshot the Gladiators for three full periods, but couldn’t get the bounces they needed to extend the their season another game.
The Gladiators, like they had done all series, took advantage of their scoring chances when they got them.
“That was our best game of the series,” Stingrays captain Kevin Quick said. “I felt like we outplayed them. Sometimes you’re going to lose a game like that and it’s OK. You can live with it, if they didn’t have a 3-0 lead in the series. But it happened to be an elimination game and our season is done much earlier than we had hoped.”
The game featured two huge momentum swings within a five-minute span during the second period. After grabbing a 2-0 lead on goals from Ryan Ginand and Sacha Guimond in the first period, the Stingrays tied the game 2-2 on back-to-back power-play goals from Robbie Dee and Peter Boyd just 39 seconds apart.
“Everything was going our way at that point,” Stingrays head coach Spencer Carbery said. “We were finally getting a couple of bounces. We had all the momentum and it looked like we were going to be able to pull this one out.”
With the score tied at 2-2, the Stingrays had a 5-on-3 opportunity after a high sticking call Haddad and a delay of game call on Ryan Donald.
But as the Stingrays’ two-man advantage was coming to an end, Gwinnett forward Casey Pierro-Zabotel picked up a loose puck inside the Stingrays’ offensive zone and found Haddad behind the Stingrays defense in the neutral zone. Hadded skated in all alone on a breakaway and beat Stingrays goalie Jeff Jakaitis for a 3-2 lead.
“You work so hard to tie the game up and then to give up a goal like that is a huge back-breaker,” Quick said. “It was just another mental mistake. We made too many mental mistakes this series to beat a team as good as Gwinnett.”
Seventy-five seconds after Haddad’s short-handed goal, Bloodoff struck again with an NHL-caliber wrist shot that hit off the cross bar and bounced into the net.
“Great shot from Evan,” Gwinnett coach John Wrobleswki said. “I’m not sure many goalies could have stopped that shot.”
South Carolina made things interesting in the third period when Andrew Cherniwchan scored to pull the Stingrays to within, 4-3, with 3:09 to play.
The Stingrays got a couple of scoring chances in the final minute, but were unable to get the puck past Domingue for the equalizer.
“We didn’t give up, we kept working,” Quick said. “We didn’t quit. Gwinnett is a good team, they found a way to close the series out.”
Gwinnett 2 2 0—4
Stingrays 0 2 1—3
First Period: 1. G, Ginand 3 (Murovich, Weller), 3:53. 2. G, Guimond 1 (Jackson, Jones), 19:29 (PP). Penalties: Gaul, SC (elbowing), 17:48.
Second Period: 3. SC, Dee 1 (Langkow), 11:12 (PP). 4. SC, Boyd 1 (Quick, Silvia), 11:51 (PP). 5. G, Haddad 3 (Pierro-Zabotel), 13:58 (SH). 6. G, Bloodoff 3 (Pierro-Zabotel), 15:13. Penalties: Guimond G (roughing), 8:24; Boyd, SC (roughing), 8:24; Donald, G (interference), 10:11; Haddad, G (high-sticking - double), 11:12; Donald, G (closing hand on puck), 12:42.
Third Period: 7. SC, Cherniwchan 1 (Alexander, Kipp), 16:51. Penalties: Donald, G (slashing ), 11:59. Shots on Goal: Stingrays 10-16-17-43; Gwinnett: 9-11-10-30. Penalties: Stingrays 2-4; Gwinnett 6-12. Power Play: Stingrays 2 for 5; Gwinnett 1 for 1. Goalies: Stingrays – Jeff Jakaitis (0-1) 30 shots, 26 saves. Gwinnett – Louis Dominque (4-0) 43 shots, 40 saves. Att: 1,668.