It didn’t take long for the Kalamazoo K-Wings to feel right at home at the North Charleston Coliseum.
As a matter of fact, it took less than five minutes.
The K-Wings scored three first-period goals and Riley Gill stopped all 30 shots he faced to lead the K-Wings past the Stingrays, 3-0, in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Wednesday night before a crowd of 1,045 at the North Charleston Coliseum.
The K-Wings lead the best-of-seven series, 3-0, and can bounce the Stingrays out of the Kelly Cup playoffs with a win in Game 4 Friday night.
The Stingrays, who have had issues with sluggish starts during the regular season, came out flat-footed about the aggressive, hard skating K-Wings.
Kalamazoo, which led the ECHL in scoring with 264 goals during the regular season, made the Stingrays pay early and often, getting two goals before fans had a chance to sit down.
Nick Sirota and Justin Taylor scored in the first four minutes of the game as the K-Wings jumped to a 2-0 lead.
It wasn’t the start that the Stingrays or head coach Spencer Carbery anticipated after dropping the first two games of the series last weekend in Kalamazoo.
“That’s one of the most disappointing losses of the year,” Carbery said.
“I thought because of the importance of the game, playing at home we could put last weekend behind us, but it was pretty obvious that we were not mentally ready to play at a high level from the start.
“Against a team as skilled as Kalamazoo, you can’t do that. They can put up three goals pretty quickly as we saw tonight.”
Stingrays captain Matt Scherer had no explanation for the team’s slow start.
“Coming into our building, down 2-0 in the series, we didn’t have the urgency we needed tonight,” Scherer said. “You got to feel like something is at stake, and I don’t think we showed that. It was just really disappointing.”
The K-Wings played near perfect hockey in all three zones, limiting the Stingrays’ chances, while at the same time moving their feet and getting into open ice. However, K-Wings coach Nick Bootland saw plenty of room for improvement.
“We got a couple of fortunate bounces and we were able to capitalize on those chances,” Bootland said. “I don’t think it was a dominant performance. It was a very tight game, especially in the second period where I felt like they had a ton of chances to get back into the game.”
The Stingrays did generate several scoring chances in the second period, but Gill was there each time to turn them away.
“Riley Gill has been fantastic during the whole postseason,” Bootland said. “He got us through Round 1 against Wheeling and now has done a heck of a job against the Stingrays.”
Carbery promised the Stingrays would come out with a better effort Friday night as they face elimination.
“I don’t care about the series, I just care about winning Friday night,” Carbery said. “We owe that to our fans. We need to make sure that we’re giving every last ounce of our energy on Friday night. We will come out flying Friday night and they’ll leave everything they have on the ice.”
Kalamazoo 3 0 0– 3 Stingrays 0 0 0– 0
First Period: 1. K, Sirota 6 (O’Neill, Karlander), 2:44. 2. K, Taylor 2 (Kattelus, Young), 3:35. 3. K, Daavettila 2 (Kattelus, Taylor), 14:53. Penalties: Cloutier, K (tripping), 5:40.
Second Period: No goals. Penalties: Flemming, SC (tripping), 14:40.
Third Period: No goals. Penalties: Sirota, K (slashing), 11:50; Ftorek, K (too many men on the ice), 15:20; Ftorek, K (fighting), 19:49; Cherniwchan, SC (fighting), 19:49.
Shots on Goal: Stingrays 15-9-6-30; Kalamazoo: 13-9-1-23. Penalties: Stingrays 2-7; Kalamazoo 4-11. Power Play: Stingrays 0 for 3; Kalamazoo 0 for 1. Goalies: Stingrays – Rob Madore (2-3-0) 23 shots, 20 saves. Kalamazoo – Riley Gill (6-1-0) 30 shots, 30 saves. Att: 1,075.