The South Carolina Stingrays’ season has come down to just one game.
Tyler Barnes scored four minutes and 30 seconds into overtime to lift Toledo past South Carolina, 5-4, in Game 6 of the ECHL Kelly Cup Eastern Conference finals Tuesday night at the Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio.
With the victory, the best-of-seven series is tied at 3-3 with a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday beginning at 7:35 p.m. at the Huntington Center.
The Stingrays won the first three games of the series, only to watch as the Walleye responded with three consecutive victories of their own. It’s only the third time in the ECHL’s 27-year history that a team has trailed a series 3-0 and forced a Game 7. Cincinnati defeated Reading in the 2010 American Conference finals after trailing 3-0 in the series. In 2003, Cincinnati forced a Game 7 against Atlantic City in the Northern Conference final, but the Cyclones lost the game.
It also was only the second road loss during the playoffs for the Stingrays, who came into the game with a four-game postseason road winning streak and were 7-1 away from the North Charleston Coliseum.
It was the third overtime game during the series.
“We knew this was going to be a tough series and had someone asked me before the series if I thought it’d be a long series, I would have said ‘yes,’” said Stingrays coach Spencer Carbery. “The series has come down to one game to see who goes to the Kelly Cup finals and we’re going to embrace that opportunity. We’re going to be pumped about coming out (Wednesday) and having an opportunity to play in a Game 7 to go to the finals. Not many guys in any league get this opportunity.”
It was the Stingrays who initially had the best chance to win the game in overtime. Wayne Simpson, who started the scoring for the Stingrays in the first period, had his shot slide across the goal line and nick the post minutes before Barnes’ game-winner.
“I thought South Carolina came out with a better push to start overtime and they actually had the better of the chances early,” said Toledo coach Derek Lalonde. “When Tyler’s shot went in I felt very fortunate. Give the guys credit, they’ve continued to fight and battle all series even when we got down 3-0. The guys know we’ve got one more game.”
Simpson got the scoring going 3:24 into the contest, snapping a pass from forward Andrew Rowe under the glove of Walleye goalie Neil Conway. Rowe made it 2-0 at 10:57 with his team-leading 11th goal of the playoffs from DeBlois.
“I don’t know that we did a whole lot to get those two goals,” Carbery said. “We got a couple of lucky bounces and took advantage of them, but it’s not like we took the play to them early on.”
The Walleye responded under two minutes later as forward Shane Berschbach tapped in a loose puck off the left post of Stingrays goaltender Jeff Jakaitis at 12:17. Late in the frame, Walleye forward A.J. Jenks capitalized on a power play to lock the game up 2-2 at 18:13.
The Walleye carried the momentum into the second period as forward Kyle Bonis tucked a loose puck past Jakaitis at 3:05. The Stingrays knotted up the contest at 6:56 as Joe Devin blasted a shot between the legs of teammate Caleb Herbert and past Conway. But less than a minute later, former Stingrays forward Alden Hirschfeld put the Walleye back in front and made it 4-3 at 7:53.
Devin buried the game-tying goal 5:15 into the third period, batting a bouncing puck past Conway with help from forward Sean Dolan.
For the second straight game, the Walleye prevailed early in the extra session as forward Barnes buried the game-winner, beating Jakaitis between the legs after quick passing from defenseman Scott Czarnowzan and Berschbach.
“Sure, we’re disappointed right now, but we’re going to reset and be ready to play in Game 7,” Carbery said. “The series has been so close, so tight, it’ll come down to one bounce or one mistake. I know we’ll be excited to play.”