Six weeks ago, it appeared that the South Carolina Stingrays were going to run away with the ECHL's South Division and Eastern Conference.
Now, not so much.
Tyler Murovich scored 33 seconds into overtime as Orlando defeated South Carolina, 3-2, Tuesday night before a crowd of 2,047 at the North Charleston Coliseum.
The Stingrays, who were leading the Eastern Conference standings by double-digits back in January, are 33-15-5 (71 points) and lead the conference and division by just five points. The Solar Bears (32-16-3, 66 points) have won a franchise record 10 straight games.
With six weeks left in the regular season, every point is crucial, a fact that was not lost on Stingrays head coach Spencer Carbery after the game.
"Of course we would have liked to have had both points tonight, but the point we got is big and could be the difference between winning the division and having home ice advantage," Carbery said. "This is the time of year when points are going to be hard to come by. Every team is looking for points, so every point is going to be important."
The Stingrays were playing like it was a postseason game early in the first period, scoring on the team's fourth shift when Nick Larson slid the puck between the legs of Orlando goalie Cody Reichard for the score.
"We got off to a good start and created some pretty good scoring chances," Carbery said. "I thought we did a good job of creating scoring chances throughout the game. We didn't have a great second period, but we did some good things in the first and third periods."
The Stingrays had several chances to extend their advantage midway through the first period, but Reichard was equal to the challenge, stopping two quality scoring chances from Kyle Bodie and Steve Spinell.
"You have to give Riechard some credit," Carbery said. "He made some big saves when they needed them, especially in that first period. It would have been nice to put the puck in the back of the net on those chances and kind of give us some confidence."
The Solar Bears grabbed a 2-1 lead as Taylor Matson scored midway through the opening period and Corey Fienhage scored with less than a minute left before the first intermission.
Stingrays defenseman Drew Baker tied the game at 2-2 with his power play goal with less than nine minutes left in regulation.
The Solar Bears feature one of the highest-scoring teams in the ECHL, but were limited to just 25 shots on net.
"I thought we did a good defensively, we didn't give them many scoring chances," Carbery said. "It was just one of those games when the bounces don't go all your way."
Orlando 2 0 0 1-3
Stingrays 1 0 1 0-2
First Period: 1. SC Larson 4 (Rodrigues), 2:11. 2. O, Matson 13 (Severyn, Cepis), 11:24 (PP). 3. O, Fienhage 2 (Severyn, Tanski), 19:05. Penalties: Greiner, SC (holding), 10:54.
Second Period: No scoring. Penalties: Goggin, O (tripping), 12:17; Rodrigues, SC (bench - too many men), 14:00.
Third Period: 4. SC, Baker 4 (Boyd, Downing), 10:34 (PP). Penalties: Aneloski, O (tripping), 4:41; Johnston, O (cross-checking), 9:51; Spinell, SC (hooking), 15:23.
Overtime Period: 5. O, Murovich 15 (Kessel, Severyn), 0:33. Penalties: No Penalties.
Shots on Goal: Stingrays 12-9-11-0-32; Orlando: 11-7-6-1-25. Penalties: Stingrays 5-10; Orlando 2-4. Power Play: Stingrays 1 for 3; Orlando 1 for 3. Goalies: Stingrays - Max Strang (3-2-2) 25 shots, 22 saves. Orlando - Cody Reichard (10-5-5) 32 shots, 30 saves. Att: 2,047.