South Carolina Stingrays coach Spiros Anastas is normally an upbeat person.
No matter the final score, no matter the outcome, there’s always some part of the Stingrays' game that Anastas can point to and take solace from going into the following day.
That wasn’t the case Friday night.
Chris LeBlanc scored two goals and Connor Ingram stopped 26 shots to lead Orlando past South Carolina 4-1 Friday in Game 4 of their ECHL Kelly Cup South Division semifinal series before a crowd of 3,123 at the North Charleston Coliseum.
Orlando leads the best-of-7 series 3-1 and can eliminate the Stingrays from the playoffs for the second consecutive season with a victory Saturday night in Game 5.
After an inspired and thrilling 4-3 double-overtime loss to Orlando in Game 4 on Wednesday night, Anastas expected the Stingrays to come out hungry in Game 4.
Just the opposite occurred. The Stingrays were badly outplayed, generating just 13 shots through the first two periods.
“The first and second periods were just awful, and I didn’t think we were that good in the third period,” Anastas said. “We didn’t show up. It was just brutal. We didn’t look like we wanted it tonight. It’s the same team we’ve been playing for the last three games, and we looked timid in every scenario. We didn’t make plays, didn’t finish hits, didn’t finish on the forecheck, didn’t break out fast enough. Our guys didn’t show up tonight, and we’ve got to be better (Saturday).
“I can’t think of many positives from tonight. Maybe our little pushback in the third period when we scored, but not much else. (Stingrays goalie) Parker Milner was a positive, but there were not many, and I’m a guy that pulls the positives out of any game as much as I can.”
After the Stingrays' gritty, determined effort in Game 3, Anastas expected to see that same team again in Game 4 with a chance to even the series.
It never happened.
“I was absolutely shocked,” Anastas said. “I came out of Wednesday’s loss very confident about our team. Really happy with the effort, obviously unhappy with the result and some of the mistakes we made, but I thought those could be fixed. Our response was just atrocious tonight. It wasn’t good enough. You’ve got pros in there that have played seven seasons with 50 playoff games, got guys that have played 150-to-200 AHL games that didn’t show up. Our top performers didn’t perform tonight. They didn’t pull anyone with them, they just pulled guys down, and it needs to be way better.”
Anastas wasn’t the only one shaking his head after the Stingrays' performance. Milner, who has matched Orlando goalie Connor Ingram save-for-save throughout the series, was baffled by the Stingrays' effort in Game 4.
“It’s frustrating that we lose a game like we did in double overtime and come out tonight and really just don’t show up,” said Milner, who made 27 saves. “None of us showed up. It wasn’t good enough, and that’s frustrating. The good thing about playing (Saturday) is that we have no choice, but to reset right away.”
One of the biggest issues for the Stingrays all series has been putting pressure on Ingram, who has been spectacular for most of the four games. The Stingrays' game plan of getting traffic in front of Ingram, never materialized.
“We had two full meetings about making it harder on Ingram, and we didn’t execute the game plan,” Anastas said. “We’re not making it hard on him. We’re not getting pucks or bodies to the net. We need to get second and third scoring opportunities like we did in Game 3 and most of the series.”
Facing elimination, the Stingrays will need to significantly better in Game 5 or for the second straight season, begin their offseason sooner than expected.
“You got to know what’s at stake,” Anastas said. “We’ve been in this position before when we knew we had to win three games to make the playoffs. It’s the same scenario. It’s unfortunate that we’re a team that waits until our backs are against the wall to start playing. We’ve been doing that all year. Maybe now facing elimination, we’ll show up on time. It’s gotta to be out of that locker room, there’s got to be some energy. We’ve got to want it.”
After a scoreless first period, the Solar scored three times in second with goals from Tayler Thompson and two from LeBlanc.
The Stingrays' only goal came from Jonathan Charbonneau midway through the third period to cut the gap to 3-1.
The Stingrays face elimination in Game 5 Saturday night at the North Charleston Coliseum.