The South Carolina Stingrays have lost just three times in their last 31 games dating back to the beginning of February.
One of the keys for the Stingrays during that stretch has been their fast starts. During their ECHL-record 23-game winning streak, the Stingrays scored the first goal of the game 20 times.
The Stingrays have been plagued by slow first periods in each of the first two games of their best-of-seven Kelly Cup playoff series against the Reading Royals. The series, which is tied at 1-1, will shift to Reading for the next three games. Game 3 is set for Thursday at Santander Arena beginning at 7 p.m. Game 4 will be Saturday at 7 p.m. and Game 5 is on Sunday at 5 p.m. South Carolina coach Spencer Carbery said the Stingrays must improve their play during the first period, but isn’t so sure on what, if any, changes need to be made before the drop of the puck.
“You can talk about doing different things to get the guys going, but ultimately it’s up to our group to mentally and physically get ready to play those first 20 minutes,” Carbery said. “These guys are professionals, they’ve done it a thousand times before in their careers. We’re going to continue to put a focus on getting off to a better start and make sure the guys are ready to go in the first period of Game 3.”
Carbery said he’s reluctant to change the team’s pre-game rituals in hopes of getting them off to a quicker start.
“I thought about changing things up from our pre-game meetings to the way we warm up,” Carbery said. “We’ve talked as a coaching staff about mixing things up, but at the same time you look back and we’ve won 25 of our last 27 games and do we really need any drastic changes with our preparations. I think the guys feel like they are ready to go. I think it’s a matter of going out there and executing and playing the way we need to play from opening puck drop and not waiting, five, 10 minutes to get going.”
While the sluggish start didn’t hurt South Carolina in its 2-1 double-overtime win in Game 1, the Stingrays quickly found themselves trailing by three goals in the first period in Game 2, a 4-2 loss.
“I think both of the first periods so far we’ve been a little tentative,” said veteran defenseman Scott Ford. “Reading jumped out to that 3-0 lead which is unacceptable this time of year. We’ve played well for huge chunks of both games and we’ve got to continue to do those little things well. We need to get on our forecheck and play well in our defensive zone. We’ve got to play our style. When we were on our little run there during the regular season we did a lot of things right. We took care of the puck, we put pucks in space and ground teams down. I think the biggest thing for us is to be mentally prepared. It’s a seven-game series.”
The Stingrays are hoping to get defenseman Marcus Perrier back in the lineup for Game 3. Perrier, a rookie, has missed the last two weeks with an undisclosed injury. Perrier led the Stingrays with 155 penalty minutes during the regular season
“We think he’ll be ready to go for game 3,” Carbery said. “Reading has come out and played a very physical style the first couple of games and Marcus should be able to help us in that department. He’s a guy who enjoys that style of play.”