It was another slow start for the South Carolina Stingrays.
For the third straight game, the Stingrays were badly outplayed during the first period by the Reading Royals Thursday night in Game 3 of their best-of-seven series.
Only this time, it didn’t matter.
South Carolina scored three second-period goals as Andrew Rowe, Sean Dolan and Wayne Simpson each scored a goal and added an assist to lead the Stingrays past the Royals, 5-2, at Santander Arena.
The Stingrays lead the best-of-seven East Division semifinal series, 2-1, with Game 4 set to take place Saturday beginning at 7 p.m. at Santander Arena. Game 5 will be held Sunday at 5 p.m., also at Santander Arena.
In Game 2 this past Saturday night, the Stingrays’ slow start resulted in a 3-0 deficit after the first 20 minutes. Reading would go on to win the game, 4-2, and even the series, 1-1.
The Royals outshot the Stingrays, 17-7, in the opening period Thursday night as Royals forward David Marshall broke open the scoring 2:40 into the contest catching a rebound off the pads of Stingrays goalie Jeff Jakaitis for his first goal of the postseason.
But that’s all the offense the Royals would manage in the opening period as Jakaitis, who finished with 25 saves, closed out the period making 13 consecutive saves to make it 1-0 at the end of the first period.
“Jeff really was able to limit the damage to just one goal after the first period,” said Stingrays head coach Spencer Carbrey. “Again, it wasn’t the start we’d been hoping for, but Jeff made a couple of really nice saves to keep us in it. It was better than being down 3-0 like we were Saturday night. I thought that was a positive and I just hoped we would have a strong second and third period like we did Saturday night.”
South Carolina answered with dominating performance in the second period as the Stingrays reeled off three consecutive goals to take a 3-1 advantage after goals by Rowe, Michal Cajkovsky and Dolan.
Rowe tied the contest unassisted at 4:20, slipping a shot over the glove of Royals goaltender Connor from the left-wing circle. Moments later, Cajkovsky blasted in his first goal of the postseason to put the Stingrays in front, 2-1, at 11:53.
Dolan buried a power-play tally past Knapp at 13:20 with help from forwards Caleb Herbert and Wayne Simpson to make it 3-1.
“We needed a couple of guys to step up and make a couple of individual plays for us,” Carbery said. “We got a couple of turnovers and Andrew and Michal just ripped a couple of shots past their goaltender. Those were both huge shots and great individual efforts that got everyone going.”
The Royals pulled back within one, 3-2, as Marshall scored shorthanded at the 15:29 mark of the second period.
“That was a disappointing goal to give up because we had all the momentum at that point,” Carbery said. “We were on the power play and looking to go up by three goals, but a mental mistake ends up in the back of our net.”
Simpson reclaimed a two-goal advantage for the Stingrays midway through the third period, catching a pass from Herbert between the faceoff circles and beating Knapp under the blocker at 11:47.
Forward Patrick Gaul sealed the victory with an empty-net goal at 18:53 from defenseman Drew MacKenzie and Dolan.
“It’s a huge win, but now we’ve got to reset and great ready for Game 4,” Carbery said. “Reading is going to be a mad hockey team and they’re going to push back and we’ve got to be ready for it.”