Cincinnati rookie Josh Heidinger couldn't have picked a more perfect moment to score his first professional goal.

Well, it was perfect timing unless you were a South Carolina Stingrays player or fan.

Heidinger scored with 3:11 left in the first overtime period and Cincinnati goalie Jeremy Smith stopped all 25 shots he faced to lead the Cyclones past South Carolina, 1-0, in Game 3 of the American Conference quarterfinals on Friday night before a crowd of 2,354 at the North Charleston Coliseum.

The Cyclones, who lead the best-of-five series, 2-1, can eliminate the Stingrays from the Kelly Cup Playoffs for the second time in three years with a victory in Game 4 today at 7 p.m. at the North Charleston Coliseum. Game 5, if necessary, would be played Sunday night.

Heidinger, playing in just his second professional hockey game, scored after Cincinnati defenseman Brock Sheahan broke his stick trying to collect a rebound off a missed shot.

Heidinger, who was playing for Canisius College less than a month ago, pounced on the loose puck just inside the blue line, took a stride and wristed a shot past South Carolina goalie Todd Ford for the game-winning goal.

"I was in the right place at the right time," Heidinger said. "I saw (Sheahan's) stick break and the puck squirted out to me at the point. I was just trying to get something on net and fortunately it went in. It was my first professional goal and one that I'm going to remember for a long time."

The Cyclones' bench emptied onto the ice as Heidinger was mobbed by his teammates.

"We told the boys in the intermission that it's the shot that you don't think is going in that will eventually win it," said Cincinnati coach Chuck Weber. "We were very fortunate on that play. (Sheahan's) stick broke and the puck went right to Josh. But that's playoff hockey. It's usually not a pretty play that wins a game in overtime, it usually comes on a broken play."

The Stingrays had plenty of chances to end the game in the third period and overtime.

Stingrays forward Keith Johnson had a chance to win the game in the final minute of regulation, but his slap shot from the right faceoff circle sailed just wide of the net.

"I was going low blocker side and it just missed the back post by an inch," Johnson said. "That's playoff hockey. A couple of inches here or there and we win that game. It was a tough, defensive playoff game. We're still confident that we can go out and win Game 4 and force a Game 5."

In overtime, Michael Dubuc had a wide-open net to shoot at, but Cincinnati defenseman Brian O'Hanley slid across to block his attempt.

"I had the entire net to shoot at," Dubuc said. "I didn't even see the goalie. I let the shot go and (O'Hanley) slid across. It hit him in the waist. That should have been the game right there."

Smith and Ford, who were teammates at this year's ECHL All-Star Game, put on a goalie clinic matching each other save-for save. Ford was named the ECHL goalie of the year earlier in the week.

"Two great goalies going at it," said Stingrays captain Matt Scherer. "I thought we had a great effort and we certainly created our share of scoring chances. We just didn't get the puck past (Smith). You've got to give him credit. Cincinnati is one of the best defensive teams in the league."

Scherer said he's confident the Stingrays can force a Game 5.

"It's a tough way to lose a game, but we still believe we can get the job done," Scherer said. "They got the bounce tonight. We've got our backs against the wall and we're looking to get something done (tonight). We've got to put this game behind and come out here in Game 4 and somehow get a win. It's a big hill to climb, but there's not a guy in our locker room that doesn't think we can't get the job done."

First Period: No goals. Penalties: Ehgoetz, C (hooking), 6:49; Bruess, SC (tripping), 14:27; Aubin, C (roughing), 18:43; Dubuc, SC (roughing), 18:43.

Second Period: No goals. Penalties: O'Hanley, C (delay of game), 12:48; Carbery, SC (high sticking), 20:00.

Third Period: No goals. Penalties: Carbery, SC (tripping), 6:47; Robinson, C (elbowing), 11:33.

Overtime: 1. SC, Heidnger 1 (Sheahan, Ortiz), 16:49. Penalties: Farrell, SC (delay of game), 4:21; Farrell, SC (delay of game), 14:33.

Shots on Goal: Stingrays 8-8-7-2-25; Cincinnati: 5-6-7-3-21. Penalties: Stingrays 6-12; Cincinnati 4-1. Power Play: Stingrays 0 for 3; Cincinnati 0 for 5. Goalies: Stingrays - Todd Ford (1-2-0) 21 shots, 20 saves. Cincinnati - Jeremy Smith (2-1-0) 31 shots, 28 saves. Att: 2,354.

Game 4

American Conference Quarterfinals

Cincinnati Cyclones vs. South Carolina Stingrays

When: Tonight, 7 p.m.

Where: North Charleston Coliseum


Tickets: 554-6060;