No, it's not a case of deja vu for the South Carolina Stingrays -- it only seems that way.
The Stingrays face the Cincinnati Cyclones in the Kelly Cup playoffs for the third straight year. Game 1 of the best-of-5 American Conference quarterfinals is set for Tuesday (7:30 p.m.) at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati, followed by Game 2 on Wednesday.
The series shifts to the North Charleston Coliseum for Game 3 on Friday at 7 p.m. If necessary, Games 4 and 5 will be Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
"I guess it wouldn't be a postseason if South Carolina and Cincinnati were not playing each other," said Stingrays captain Matt Scherer. "We might as well get it over with early."
The Stingrays and Cyclones have met in the last two American Conference finals. The Cyclones beat the Stingrays in five games in 2008 on their way to the club's first Kelly Cup title. The Stingrays returned the favor, sweeping Cincinnati in four straight games, in last year's American Conference finals on their to winning the franchise's third ECHL championship.
"The road to the Kelly Cup has gone through Cincinnati and South Carolina the last two seasons, and I don't see that changing this year," Cincinnati coach Chuck Weber said back in March. "I always felt like South Carolina was the best team we faced in the playoffs in 2008. Last year, you could tell they were a team on a mission. It's always a battle when we get together."
South Carolina head coach Cail MacLean, who in 2008 was the Stingrays captain and played in the series against the Cyclones, wasn't expecting to see the Cyclones this early in the postseason.
"This is a very tough first-round series against a team that knows how to win in the playoffs," he said. "It's going to be a tough, long series. We're going to have to be at our very best to be successful against Cincinnati."
The Stingrays had little success against the Cyclones this year, going 1-2-1. The Stingrays' lone win against the Cyclones -- a 6-2 victory -- came almost a month ago.
"The lineups of both teams have changed so much since we played them last time that I don't think what happened in the regular season is really going to matter," Scherer said. "Cincinnati is one of the best defensive teams in the conference and that doesn't change no matter who is on the ice for them.
"The key for us will be sticking to our systems. Playing smart inside our own zone, staying disciplined, and staying out of the penalty box. It's going to be a tough series, we know that going in."
This will be the third time that Scherer, forward Trent Campbell and defenseman Nate Kiser have faced the Cyclones during the playoffs.
"I think having that experience is going to help us," Scherer said. "They get a lot of energy out of their crowd, and their building can get pretty hostile."
MacLean said there's a chance that All-ECHL first-team goalie Todd Ford could return to play against the Cyclones. Ford has been with Portland, of the American Hockey League, the last three weeks.
"Todd can be a difference-maker, especially in the playoffs," MacLean said. "We're optimistic that Todd will be back for the opening round."
The Stingrays will announce their 23-man playoff roster today.