Greg Stewart is just making up for lost time.
Stewart scored two goals and Daren Machesney stopped all 20 shots he faced to lead South Carolina past Gwinnett, 3-0, in Game 1 of the ECHL Eastern Conference Kelly Cup quarterfinals Tuesday night before a crowd of 1,250 at the North Charleston Coliseum.
The Stingrays hold a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series and will take on the Gladiators in Game 2 today at the North Charleston Coliseum at 7 p.m.
Stewart was limited to just 24 games during the regular season because of two separate injuries. He recently ?returned to the lineup for the first time after spending seven weeks on the ?injured reserve list.
“It’s been a pretty frustrating season with all the injuries,” Stewart said. “It seems like I haven’t played in four months. I was ready for the playoffs to start.”
After suffering a broken collarbone at the end of January, Stewart didn’t return to the lineup until this past weekend against Greenville. The former Montreal Canadian has quickly rounded into playoff form. Stewart made a point of lowering his shoulder and driving hard to the net against the Road Warriors over the weekend. It was a quality that carried over against the Gladiators.
“I feel like I can out-compete anyone on the ice,” Stewart said. “I wanted to challenge guys all over the ice and use my body and my speed to get to the net. It took me a couple of periods to get comfortable out there, but I felt like I found my groove Saturday against Greenville.”
South Carolina coach Spencer Carbery said Stewart was nearly unstoppable.
“Greg was a wrecking ball taking the puck to the net,” ?Carbery said. “He had great speed going wide and he was winning battles and getting underneath their skin. He was outstanding tonight.”
Machesney was rarely challenged, but made the saves when they were needed, especially in the second period.
“To be honest, it was a pretty easy night,” Machesney said. “The guys were great in front of me. I only had to worry about the first shot. I knew if I did give up a rebound, they were there for the second shot.”
Gwinnett coach John Woblewski said the Gladiators will have to get more pressure on Machesney in Game 2.
“I thought South Carolina dictated the pace of the game right out of the gate,” Woblewski said. “I don’t think we did ourselves any favors. I thought we showed a good bit playoff inexperience. We maybe got into our game for about 10 minutes in the second period.
“We were not very good tonight. We were not great working away from the puck like we normally are. We were not very good in the greasy areas. I thought that was an area that South Carolina controlled.”
The Stingrays grabbed a 1-0 lead on Johann Kroll’s blast midway through the first.
Stewart gave the Stingrays a 2-0 lead on his slap shot with 7:44 left in the second period. After a Stingrays goal was disallowed late in the second period, Stewart gave South Carolina a three-goal cushion when he scored off his own rebound after a mini-breakaway.
“We didn’t win the series tonight,” Carbery said. “We’ve got to have a short-term memory, forget about what we did tonight and focus on Game 2.”
Gwinnett 0 0 0—0 Stingrays 1 1 0—3
First Period: 1. SC, Kroll 1 (Lacroix, O’Brien), 10:40. Penalties: Cherniwchan, SC (tripping), 3:38; Jackson, G (cross checking), 10:29; Stevenson, SC (interference), 12:32; Brutlag, G (holding), 12:41.
Second Period: 2. SC, Stewart 1 (Dorr), 12:16. Penalties: No penalties.
Third Period: 3. SC, Stewart 2 (O’Brien, Fleming), 1:26. Penalties: Drewwiske, G (slashing), 10:50; Lamourex, G (too many men on the ice), 14:15.
Shots on Goal: Stingrays 8-8-10-26; Gwinnett: 7-9-4-20. Penalties: Stingrays 2-4; Gwinnett 4-8. Power Play: Stingrays 1 for 4; Gwinnett 0 for 2. Goalies: Stingrays –Darren Machesney (1-0-0) 20 shots, 20 saves. Gwinnett – Marc Cheverie (0-1-0) 26 shots, 23 saves. Att: 1,250.