Game 7 heroics: Stingrays’ Joe Devin answers the call

(The Blade/Lori King) South Carolina Stingrays react to scoring the winning goal past Toledo Walleye's Joel Choulnard and goalie Jeff Lerg in Period 6 of Game 7 in the ECHL Eastern Conference hockey finals at the Huntington Center in Toledo.

There’s just something about Game 7s that seem to bring out the best in South Carolina Stingrays forward Joe Devin.

Twice during the Kelly Cup Playoffs, South Carolina was on the brink of elimination in a Game 7 and twice the former Cornell University star has bailed the Stingrays out with heroic goals.

No goal was bigger than Devin’s game-winner Wednesday night in the ECHL’s Eastern Conference finals against the Toledo Walleye. Devin’s goal less than four minutes into the third overtime period lifted the Stingrays past the Walleye, 1-0, and propelled the team into the franchise’s record-tying fourth Kelly Cup finals.

The Stingrays open the Kelly Cup finals Sunday afternoon against the Allen Americans, who won their own Game 7 Wednesday night against Ontario, 3-1, at the Allen Event Center in Allen, Texas.

In the Stingrays’ first Kelly Cup series against Reading, Devin scored the tying and game-winning goals against the Royals in the third period in Game 7. This was after the Stingrays trailed 2-0 going into the final 20 minutes.

“Joe certainly has a flair for the dramatics,” said Stingrays coach Spencer Cabery Thursday afternoon after the team’s 12-hour bus ride from Toledo, Ohio. “He’s a guy who obviously loves those big-time pressure moments in Game 7s because he always seems to step up and make a play for us. He did it against Reading and he did it again Wednesday night against Toledo. It was a huge goal in the history of this organization and one a lot of people are going to remember for a long time.”

Devin seemed like an unlikely hero for the Stingrays against the Walleye. After a productive series against the Royals, Devin had struggled against Florida and early against Toledo, going 10 games without recording a single point until two goals against the Walleye in Game 6.

“I was getting some chances against Florida and early in the series against Toledo, but nothing was going in for me,” Devin said. “I was just trying to stay the course, continue to work hard every shift, keep shooting, keep going to the net and eventually they’d come. It was frustrating for a few games because I couldn’t seem to get anything going, but when you’re not scoring, you have to do other things to try and help the team win.”

The Stingrays’ game-winner came just moments after Toledo forward Martin Frk missed an open net that would have given the Walleye the victory and the series. The Stingrays raced down the ice and Devin caught a drop pass from forward Caleb Herbert, stepped past a Walleye defender, and beat Toledo goalie Jeff Lerg under the blocker for the game-winning goal.

The Stingrays bench erupted and mobbed Devin on the ice.

“There were some scary moments, that’s for sure, during the overtime periods,” Devin said. “Toledo had some great chances. When my shot went in ... it’s hard to describe what you’re feeling at that moment. It’s elation. It’s relief. It’s exhaustion. It’s everything. To see everyone’s faces celebrating is something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Definitely the biggest goal in my career.”

Because of scheduling conflicts at both venues, the seven-game Kelly Cup finals will be played under a 3-3-1 format with the first three games taking place in Allen, a suburb 25 miles outside of Dallas. The Stingrays will host Games 4, 5 and 6 on June 7, 9 and 10, respectively, at the North Charleston Coliseum.

“It’s not an ideal format, but we’ve got to work around some scheduling issues,” Carbery said. “Starting a series with three straight road games will be a challenge.”

The Stingrays are 8-2 on the road during the playoffs.

Besides Sunday’s opener, the Americans will host Games 2 and 3 on June 2 and 3, respectively, and June 10 for a Game 7, if necessary. The Stingrays are scheduled to fly to Dallas on Saturday morning. Normally, the Stingray travel by bus during road games.

“We’re leaving the bus behind us,” Carbery said. “The 12-hour bus trip to Toledo was our last one of the season.”