It hasn’t always been an easy postseason for South Carolina Stingrays goalie Jeff Jakaitis.
Jakaitis was the ECHL’s MVP and Goalie of the Year during the regular season, setting a league mark with a shutout streak that lasted more than 319 minutes. But the number of minutes appeared to catch up with the veteran goalie at times during the Kelly Cup Playoffs.
Jakaitis had been pulled from the net two times during the playoffs, including Tuesday night in Game 2 against the Allen Americans after giving up three goals on just 13 shots.
In Game 3, Jakaitis left little doubt why he was the MVP and goalie of the year.
Andrew Rowe scored two goals and Wayne Simpson added a goal and two assists, but it was Jakaitis’ 39 saves that keyed South Carolina’s 4-1 win over the Allen Americans in Game 3 of the Kelly Cup Finals on Wednesday night at the Allen Event Center in Allen, Texas.
With the victory, the Stingrays take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series as action shifts back to the Lowcountry for three straight games. Game 4 will be held Sunday at 7:05 p.m. at the North Charleston Coliseum with Game 5 on Tuesday, also at 7:05 p.m.
Jakaitis, 31, has looked almost human at times during the playoffs, but rebounded from Game 2’s 5-2 loss with one of his best performances of the postseason. Jakaitis has won the league’s goalie of the year honors the last two seasons and three times during his career.
“Jeff was the MVP tonight, no question he was at the top of his game tonight,” said South Carolina Stingrays coach Spencer Carbery. “He played the caliber of hockey that made him the back-to-back goalie of the year. He was absolutely phenomenal tonight. He made some huge, huge saves, especially in the third period when we were under attack. Allen put a ton of pressure on us and he made some big saves in some pivotal moments. He stepped up in a key time when we needed him the most.”
The Stingrays’ top line — Rowe, Simpson and Derek DeBlois — continued their torrid scoring pace. Rowe scored two third period goals, including one on a breakaway that gave the Stingrays 2-0 lead. Simpson’s three-point effort gives him 36 points (12 goals, 24 assists), which sets a single-season Kelly Cup playoff scoring record. Rowe’s 32 points (14 goals, 18 assists) puts him in second place in scoring during the postseason.
“That line continues to produce,” Carbery said. “They’ve been scoring since the first game of the playoffs and it’s continued to the finals. I just hope they can keep it up for a few more games.”
Despite being up 2-1 in the series, Carbery isn’t satisfied with the team’s effort in the first three games of the finals.
“I thought we were OK again, not terrible, but not great either,” Carbery said. “We continue to struggle offensively. It was just a gutty effort, especially in the third period. I thought we did a great job of weathering the storm at the end of the game. Guys were sacrificing their bodies, blocking shots, whatever it took to win that game.”
Stingrays defenseman Michal Cajkovsky broke the scoreless tie nearly halfway through the second period, slipping a shot from the right-wing circle through a screen and past Americans goalie Riley Gill.
Rowe made it 2-0 early in the third period, lifting the puck just over the goal line with help from Simpson and forward Rob Bellamy at the 5:16 mark of the final period.
“Wayne used his deceptive speed to get around their defenseman and Andrew was there for the rebound,” Carbery said. “That’s a huge goal at a critical moment.”
The Americans responded just over two minutes later as forward Chris Crane slipped a rebound over the pads of Jakaitis.
With the Americans pressuring, Cajkovsky gloved a dump-in attempt and found Rowe for a breakaway that he slipped between the legs of Gill for the score.
“That was not an easy shot,” Carbery said. “He was very cool, very calm and he puts the puck between (Gill’s) legs. That’s what you expect from your captain.”
Simpson sealed the victory with an empty-net goal at 18:07.