It seemed only fitting that the fate of the South Carolina Stingrays' five-game winless streak would rest on the stick of forward Patrick Gaul.
Gaul had a goal and two assists and scored the game-winner in the fifth round of the shootout to lead South Carolina past Toledo, 4-3, Tuesday night before a crowd of 2,069 at the North Charleston Coliseum.
The Stingrays are 31-14-4 (66 points) and remained in first place in the ECHL's Eastern Conference. The Walleye lost for the sixth straight time and are 16-29-4 (35 points).
For the first 15 minutes of the game, the Stingrays carried the play, forcing turnovers and getting scoring chance after scoring chance. But despite their dominant play, the Stingrays found themselves trailing 2-0 just 13 minutes into the game.
"That's just the way things have been going for us the last couple of weeks," Gaul said. "We came out with a lot of energy and got back to the kind of team we've been most of the season. Our forecheck was working, we were getting turnovers and a lot of scoring chances, but we were not finishing."
When you haven't won in more than a week and have struggled to put the puck in the net for the better part of a month, someone on the Stingrays needed to step forward.
Dale Mitchell forced a turnover inside the Walleye's defensive zone and found Gaul coming down the right wing. The former Notre Dame standout wristed a shot past Toledo goalie Jared Coreau to cut the lead in half, 2-1, with less than five minutes left in the opening period.
"That's a huge goal for us," said Stingrays coach Spencer Carbery. "We needed something good to happen for us and Patrick Gaul, who probably works harder than anyone in our league, made a play for us and got a goal."
Peter Boyd would tie the game up at 2-2 with his team-leading 17th goal on the power-play goal just six minutes into the second period.
But a bad turnover inside the Stingrays zone led to Philippe Lefebvre's go-ahead goal with 3:30 left in regulation.
"We had played so well in some many areas and then to make a mistake like that and have it end up in the back of our net was very discouraging," Carbery said.
Stingrays forward Jack Downing, who was sent down from the American Hockey League Tuesday morning, tied the game with a wicked wrist shot from above the hash marks and sent the contest into overtime.
"Jack has the best shot on our team and there's no one you'd rather have than him taking that shot in that situation," Gaul said.
Stingrays goalie Max Strang came up big in the shootout, stopping all four shots he faced, while Simpson and finally Gaul got the goals.
"With everything we've been through the last couple of weeks, we needed this win," Gaul said. "It didn't matter how we did or how it looked, we needed the two points."
Toledo 2 0 1 0 0 -3
Stingrays 1 1 1 0 1 -4
First Period: 1. T, Clarke 13 (Bogosian, Sinkewich), 11:36. 2. T, Hirschfeld 8 (Lynch), 13:46. 3. SC, Gaul 11 (Mitchell), 15:31. Penalties: Nicastro, T (delay of game), 2:37; Gleason, T (interference), 6:31.
Second Period: 4. SC, Boyd 17 (Vidmar, Gaul), 5:46 (PP). Penalties: Lefebvre, T (interference), 1:23; Nicastro, T (tripping), 4:25; Sinkewich, T (hooking), 7:43; Langdon, SC (interference), 12:55.
Third Period: 5. T, Lefebvre 3 (Shalunov, Gilbert), 16:30. 6. SC, Downing 11 (Baker, Gaul), 19:26. Penalties: Greiner, SC (holding), 12:08; Sinkewich, T (elbowing), 17:21.
OT Period: No Scoring. Penalties: No Penalties.
Shootout : Toledo 0 (Shalunov NG, Gilbert NG, Shea NG, Hirschfeld NG), South Carolina 2 (Downing NG, Mitchell NG, Boyd NG, Simpson G, Gaul G).
Shots on Goal: Stingrays 11-10-9-3-1-34; Toledo:7-4-11-2-0-24. Penalties: Stingrays 2-4; Toledo 6-12. Power Play: Stingrays: 1 for 6; Toledo 0 for 2. Goalies: Stingrays - Max Strang (1-1-1) 24 shots, 21 saves. Toledo - Jared Coreau (1-8-4) 33 shots, 30 saves. Att: 2,069.
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