One down, three to go.
Wayne Simpson scored twice and Andrew Rowe added a goal and an assist to lead the South Carolina Stingrays past the Allen Americans, 4-3, in Game 1 of the ECHL’s Kelly Cup Finals on Sunday before a crowd of 4,047 at the Allen Event Center in Allen, Texas.
The Stingrays won Game 1 for the fourth consecutive playoff series — the third time on the road — to grab a 1-0 lead in the best-of-7 series. Game 2 is for Tuesday at 8:05 p.m. at the Allen Event Center.
The Stingrays won an ECHL record 13-straight road games during the regular season and continued to play well away from the North Charleston Coliseum.
South Carolina, which led the league with 25 road victories, is now 9-2 during the playoffs.
“We were a good road team during the regular season and we’ve been able to carry that over to the playoffs,” said Stingrays coach Spencer Carbery. “It’s a loud building and Allen has some very vocal fans, but I just don’t think our guys get intimidated in those kinds of environments. I think this team kind of enjoys the challenge and thrives in those us-against-the-world situations.”
The two teams had never faced each other. Allen has been one of the premier teams in the now defunct Central Hockey League, wining that league’s last two championships. But Allen, along with six other former CHL teams, joined the ECHL just days before the start of the regular season. The Americans played mostly against former CHL opponents, but did get in a few games against ECHL franchises from the Western Conference.
No one was sure what to expect when the two teams took the ice against each other Sunday.
“Until you see their guys up close and get on the ice with them, it’s almost impossible to know what’s going to happen when they drop the puck,” Carbery said. “We went over scouting reports and video, but that’s just Xs and Os to the guys. They’ve got to go out and see Chad Costello and Greger Hanson on the ice before they know what to expect. There was a feeling out process for the first period and even some in the second period. I thought once we settled in, we played OK.”
The Americans led the league with 292 goals during the regular season. The Stingrays have faced the four highest scoring teams in the ECHL during the playoffs in Allen, Toledo, Florida and Reading. Costello led the league in scoring with 125 points on 41 goals and 84 assists.
“Allen has a very talented forward group with a ton of skill,” Carbery said. “We saw that in Game 1. I would compare them with Florida the most of the three teams we’ve seen in the playoffs. Their defensemen like to jump in the rush and are very active inside the offensive zone.”
It took less than a minute for the Americans to begin the scoring. Defenseman Trevor Ludwig took a shot from a bad angle along the goal line, but the puck squirted underneath the right pad of Stingrays goalie Jeff Jakaitis for the score.
It didn’t take long for the Stingrays’ top line of Rowe, Simpson and Derek DeBlois to answer with three straight goals.
Rowe responded with his team-leading 12th goal less than two minutes later, stepping past an Americans defender, and then slipping the puck past Allen goaltender Riley Gill for the score.
Moments later, Simpson put the Stingrays in front tapping in a setup with defenseman Michal Cajkovsky and Rowe. Simpson answered again as defenseman Scott Ford found him off the left post for his 11th goal of the playoffs.
Americans forward Gary Steffes capitalized on the power play at 14:23 of the second period beating Jakaitis under the blocker to pull the contest within one. Early in the third period, the Americans tied the game up on a goal from forward Spence Asuchak.
With Rowe in the penalty box for an interference call, Dolan settled a pass from forward Patrick Gaul and slid in the game-winning goal shorthanded with 8:30 left in the final period.
“Another great individual effort from Sean Dolan,” Carbery said. “It was a huge, huge goal and we needed it.”