Adirondack coach Cail MacLean couldn’t have asked for a better start to Friday night’s game against the South Carolina Stingrays.
During the Thunder’s first shift, just 23 seconds into the game, Adirondack’s Peter MacArthur scored on the first shot of the game.
Three minutes later, Ben Johnson gave the Thunder a 2-0 lead before the crowed of 2,825 at the North Charleston Coliseum had a chance to settle into their seats.
The Thunder eventually built a 5-2 lead, but had to hold off a furious Stingrays rally and hang on for a 5-4 victory in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series Friday night.
Game 2 of the best-0f-7 series is Saturday at 7:05 p.m. at the North Charleston Coliseum.
“I thought our guys were ready to play from the very beginning,” said MacLean, a former captain and head coach of the Stingrays. “We did a good job of getting the puck to the net early and got on the board right away.”
South Carolina Stingrays coach Spencer Carbery had no explanation for the Stingrays’ sluggish start, especially after their relatively easy series win over Kalamazoo last week.
“Maybe it was a bit of complacency on our part, but I don’t know,” Carbery said. “Maybe we were patting ourselves on the back a little bit too much after the first round. It’s a whole different level this time of year and teams desperately want to win. You can’t afford to have a five-or-10-minute lapse this time of year.”
After facing a relatively slow skating Kalamazoo team, the Stingrays looked ill-prepared to face a faster and more skilled Adirondack squad.
“It took us a period to get our legs underneath us,” Carbery said. “We didn’t get off to a great start and our goaltending wasn’t very good either. That’s a tough combination to overcome, no matter what kind of push you make over the final two periods.”
After the Stingrays cut the gap to 2-1 on Joey Leach’s wrist shot midway through the opening period, the Thunder answered on Mathieu Brodeur’s goal to push their lead back 3-1 with less than three minutes to play in the first period.
The Stingrays got back within a goal for a second time on Caleb Herbert’s fourth goal of the playoffs at the 8:39 mark of the second period.
But just like the first period, the Thunder responded on a beautiful passing play that led to Greg Wolfe’s goal just two minutes later.
Dana Fraser gave the Thunder a 5-2 advantage just before the end of the second period. Adirondack managed just three shots in the second period, but score twice.
“It doesn’t matter if they had three shots or 25 shots in that period, they still scored twice,” Carbery said. “If the two shots they get end up with a wide-open back door tap in, the result is going to be the same.”
Derek DeBlois almost single-handedly brought the Stingrays back in the third period. Two times DeBlois was able to get by the Thunder defense take a shot, collect his own rebound and score. DeBlois’ goal with 5:48 to play cut the Thunder’s lead to 5-4.
The Stingrays didn’t get another quality scoring chance the rest of the way.
“It’s a loss,” Carbery said. “This time of year a loss is a loss. The score doesn’t matter. Yes, we fought back. Yes, we made the game close. But a loss is a loss and we’re down 1-0 in the series.”
Both Carbery and MacLean agreed, the series is a long way from being over.
“This is going to be a long series,” MacLean said.