After two emotional games against the Orlando Solar Bears on Friday and Saturday, South Carolina coach Spencer Carbery wondered how much energy the Stingrays would have Sunday afternoon against the Greenville Road Warriors.
As it turned out, not much.
Josh Nichols scored two goals and Marc-Olivier Vallerand had a goal and two assists to lead Greenville past South Carolina, 5-1, Sunday afternoon before a crowd of 3,759 at the North Charleston Coliseum.
The Stingrays, who still lead the ECHL's South Division by two points, fell to 38-19-3 (82 points) on the season. The Road Warriors, who have won eight of their last 10 games, improved to 36-22-5 (77 points).
Going into the weekend, the Stingrays and Solar Bears were separated by a single point in the standings. The Stingrays beat Orlando, 2-1, on Friday night and then dropped a shootout, 4-3, Saturday to earn three of four points from the two-game series.
It became obvious pretty midway through the first period Sunday that the two games against the Solar Bears had taken a physical and emotional toll on the Stingrays.
Carbery wasn't about to use the Stingrays' recent busy schedule as an excuse for the loss against the Road Warriors.
"We played three games in three days last weekend with the third game on the road against Greenville and we found a way to win (2-1) against a team that hadn't played in two nights," Carbery said. "To manufacture a fatigue excuse is not even close to what happened on the ice for us today. We didn't lose this game because we were fatigued. We just didn't play very smart hockey."
The Road Warriors scored three goals during a four-minute stretch late in the first period to put the Stingrays away.
"We just made some huge mistakes in the first period and every single one ended up in the back of our net," Carbery said. "We just can't continue to make those kinds of mistakes this time of year. The worst part was that we got no push back from any of our guys when we got down early."
Carbery said the Stingrays will need to clean up their game as they head into the final three weeks of the season.
"Right now we're just not consistent enough, not mentally tough enough to win," Carbery said. "We've got a lot of guys who are struggling in the early parts of their career. We're in Game 63 of the season and we're still making some of the same mistakes we were making at the beginning of the year."
Greenville forward Andrew Rowe scored his team-leading 26th goal of the season at 13:28 to kick off the scoring. Moments later, Vallerand redirected a Rowe shot past the glove of Stingrays goaltender Jeff Jakaitis at 15:23. With under three minutes left in the opening period Nicholls found the back of the net to extend his personal point streak to 13 games.
Road Warriors forward Emerson Clark carried the scoring into the second period, tapping a rolling puck over the glove of Jakaitis at 4:27.
Nicholls made it a five-goal advantage at 16:41, before Mitchell put the Stingrays on the scoreboard 23 seconds later to close the game scoring.
Greenville 3 2 0-5
Stingrays 0 1 0-1
First Period: 1. G, Rowe 26 (Vallerand, Johnston), 13:28. 2. G, Vallerand 22 (Rowe, Johnston), 15:23. 3. G, Nicholls 16 (Hegarty), 17:03. Penalties: Hegarty, G (interference), 9:35; Arnold, G (boarding), 17:59.
Second Period: 4, G, Clark 5 (Cameron, Sparks), 4:27. 5. G, Nicholls 17 (Yogan, Vallerand), 16:41. 6. SC, Mitchell 18 (Gaul, Collins), 17:24. Penalties: Langdon, SC (slashing ), 10:21.
Third Period: No goals. Penalties: No penalties.
Shots on Goal: Stingrays 10-15-6-31; Greenville: 12-15-6-33. Penalties: Stingrays 1-2; Greenville 2-4. Power Play: Stingrays 0 for 2; Greenville 0 for 1. Goalies: Stingrays - Jeff Jakaitis (24-11-4) 31 shots, 26 saves. Greenville - Jeff Malcolm (11-6-2) 33 shots, 32 saves. Att: 3,759.