If it seems like the South Carolina Stingrays have been here before, you’d be correct.
Two weeks ago, the Stingrays faced a similar scenario against the Florida Everblades. The Stingrays had won the first two games on the road against Florida and then defeated the Everblades in Game 3 to take a 3-0 lead in their East Division finals series.
But two overtime home losses later and the Stingrays were headed back down to Estero, Fla., for Game 6. The Stingrays eventually beat the Everblades, 5-2, in Game 6 to advance to the Eastern Conference finals against Toledo.
Much like the Florida series, the Stingrays have jumped out to a 3-0 lead after Wednesday night’s dramatic 6-5 overtime victory over the Walleye in Game 3 at the North Charleston Coliseum. The Stingrays can clinch the series and move into the club’s fourth Kelly Cup finals with a victory over the Walleye on Friday night in Game 5, which is set to begin at 7:05 p.m. Game 5, if necessary, would be played Saturday at 7:05 p.m.
South Carolina coach Spencer Carbery hopes the players have learned their lesson from the Florida series and can put the Walleye away as quickly as possible.
“I think we learned from the first two series against Florida and Reading that we have to knock a team out when we have the chance,” Carbery said. “I think the way we came out in Game 3 showed that we’re learning. We were ready to play from the drop of the puck. We didn’t sit back and we were a desperate hockey team, and I expect us to respond the same way on Friday night in Game 4 with a chance to put the series away. We’ve been through this before and our urgency level and desperation level is going to be just as high or higher on Friday night.”
It’s a 12- to 14-hour bus ride from the Lowcountry to Toledo. It’s a trip that Stingrays captain Andrew Rowe hopes the team won’t have to make again anytime soon.
“Toledo has a great building and they’ve got really loud fans, but I hope we don’t see them again in this series,” Rowe said. “It would be huge to wrap this up in four games. Traveling for us is pretty exhausting. It’s a long bus ride up there, so we’d like to avoid that. They’ve got a great team and we know they can win two games here, so we’re not going to take them lightly.”
In fact, Wednesday night’s loss was the Walleye’s first at the North Charleston Coliseum this season. The Walleye were 3-1-0 against the Stingrays during the regular season and won all three games in the Lowcountry. The Stingrays are just 4-4 at home during the postseason.
“Our goal when we came down here was the get the series back to Toledo,” said Walleye coach Derek Lelonde. “That’s still our goal and we can still accomplish that if we can win the next two games. We’ve played three one-goal games that could have gone either way. I know the kind of character we’ve got in our locker room.”
So does Carbery.
“We had Florida down 3-0 and they came back and won two games,” Carbery said. “Toledo is not going to fold the tent. No team packs it in this time of year. They are going to be a desperate hockey team with nothing to lose and we better be ready for that kind of push back. The toughest game to win is that fourth game in a series against a team as good as Toledo.”