South Carolina travels to Florida on Friday
BY ANDREW MILLER
In a season full of comebacks, the South Carolina Stingrays had the comeback of the season.
With their season on the line and trailing by two goals with 20 minutes to play, the Stingrays rallied for three third period goals to beat the Reading Royals, 3-2, in Game 7 of the ECHL’s East Division Kelly Cup semifinal series.
Joe Devin scored two goals, including the game-winner with 3:28 to play, to cap an improbable comeback for the Stingrays. It was only the second Game 7 in the club’s 22-year history, the last coming in the Kelly Cup finals against Alaska in 2009. The Stingrays won that game, 4-2.
With the victory, the Stingrays will take on the Florida Everblades in the best-of-seven East Division finals beginning at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Estero, Fla. Game 2 will be Saturday night in Florida.
The Stingrays outplayed the Royals for large chunks of the first two periods, but had nothing to show for it, trailing 2-0 going into the third period after goals from Jordan Heywood and David Marshall.
South Carolina coach Spencer Carbery implored his team to move their feet and play with a higher intensity level during the second intermission.
“We had a talk in the locker room and to be honest, it didn’t look like a Game 7 from our group,” Carbery said. “It wasn’t a terrible first and second periods, but it wasn’t our best either. It wasn’t that pace or that urgency that you’d expect in a Game 7. We talked about this being it. We’ve got 20 minutes to play and let’s lay it all out there and play with some urgency.”
The Stingrays played with plenty of pace and urgency in the final 20 minutes.
“It was an unbelievable final period,” Carbery said. “It’s symbolic of our group this season. When we went on that run in February and March (23-game winning streak), we just never felt like we were out of a game no matter what the score was. We were finding different ways to win hockey games, and tonight was a prime example of that. We just found a way.”
The comeback started just 90 seconds into the third period when rookie Derek DeBlois slammed home a Drew MacKenzie rebound to pull the Stingrays to within, 3-1, with 18:30 to play.
“In the locker room we were talking about how we’ve done this before,” said South Carolina captain Andrew Rowe. “We did it down in Florida and we did it against these guys earlier in the season. Everyone was really calm in the locker room. Derek gets that huge goal to get us going to start the period. It’s not like we were deflated, but that goal got everyone going.”
After a couple of scoring chances for both teams over the next few minutes, Devin tied the game at 2-2 with his power play goal with 6:27 to play. Defenseman Michal Cajkovsky came off the half-wall and threw a shot on goal that Devin redirected between the legs of Reading goalie Connor Knapp.
“Michal makes a great play and I was fortunate enough to get my stick on the puck and get it between his legs,” Devin said. “We had a few chances earlier in that power play, so for that to go in was a huge goal for us.”
Three minutes later, Devin scooped up a loose puck after a Marcus Perrier shot and back-handed it under the blocker of Knapp.
“I was just trying to put someone on net and luckily it went under his blocker,” Devin said. “It was an amazing game. I’ve never been a part of something like this, getting the game winner in a Game 7. It’s something I’ll remember the rest of my life.”
The Stingrays have little time to celebrate as they take on the Everblades in less than 48 hours in Game 1. The Stingrays left for Florida late Wednesday night for the nine-hour bus ride to Estero, Fla.
“We’ll celebrate a little bit on the bus, but it’s back to work for Game 1,” Rowe said.