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2023 Kelly Cup Playoffs

ECHL South Division Semifinal Preview: South Carolina Stingrays vs. Florida Everblades

ECHL South Division Semifinal Preview: South Carolina Stingrays vs. Florida Everblades

CHARLESTON, SC – At this time last year, the South Carolina Stingrays were sitting in the South Division’s cellar with a measly 62 points, while the Florida Everblades sat atop the division preparing to go on their Kelly Cup run. One year later, the defending Kelly Cup champions will be facing off against a much-improved South Carolina club who are looking to prove once again that last season was nothing more than a bump in their road. 

Led by the ECHL’s top power play unit (tied with the Toledo Walleye), South Carolina spent this season racking up the fifth most goals in the league at 263 goals for. Josh Wilkins, Bear Hughes, and company will look to continue that scoring prowess as they take on one of the ECHL’s most playoff tested goalies from last year in Florida’s Cam Johnson. Although his baseline stats have dropped a touch this regular season, Florida should still feel confident with Johnson in net. As it was only a year ago this goalie won 15 out of his 18 postseason starts while posting a .931 save percentage and only allowing 1.90 GAA.

Final Regular Season Records:

#1 South Carolina Stingrays: 45-22-4-1, 95 points (2nd in Eastern Conference, 5th in ECHL)
#4 Florida Everblades: 38-25-4-5, 85 points (7th in Eastern Conference, 11th in ECHL)

Series Schedule:

Game 1 – Florida at SOUTH CAROLINA | Saturday, April 22 at 6:05 p.m. ET
Game 2 – Florida at SOUTH CAROLINA | Monday, April 24 at 7:05 p.m. ET
Game 3 – South Carolina at FLORIDA | Wednesday, April 26 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Game 4 – South Carolina at FLORIDA | Friday, April 28 at 7:30 p.m. ET
*Game 5 – South Carolina at FLORIDA | Saturday, April 29 at 7:00 p.m. ET
*Game 6 – Florida at SOUTH CAROLINA | Monday, May 1 at 7:05 p.m. ET
*Game 7 – Florida at SOUTH CAROLINA | Wednesday, May 3 at 7:05 p.m. ET
*If Necessary

Season Series Recap:

Florida and South Carolina should be comfortable with each other as they met on ten separate occasions during the regular season. Florida came away from their regular season series as the outstanding victors taking seven out of the ten matches. It is worth noting, however, that as South Carolina heated up down the stretch they took three of the final five games. This includes the back-to-back victories on April 7th and 8th.

While each team produced a plethora of goal scorers, Kevin O’Neil seemed to be the most comfortable playing against Florida as he found the back of the netting on five separate occasions. On the flip side, Florida employed a score-by-committee method while playing against South Carolina this year; out of 16 goal scorers for the Blades only Zach Uens and Jake Smith lit the lamp more than twice. A note of further interest for Uens is that all three of his ECHL goals this year have come against South Carolina.

In their regular season series these two teams played each other very tightly with four of the ten games being decided by one goal, and another making it all the way to the shootout. That number may not seem like much, but it is skewed by a couple of very late empty net goals for Florida. Without the empty netters it would have marked seven one-goal games between these two clubs, which helps put some perspective on just how tight this upcoming playoff series can be.

How the Stingrays Win:

In this entire preview I have touched on South Carolina’s prolific offense. They are a team that can, and do, score at will. However, South Carolina has two extra X-Factors going into this series that I have not touched on yet, and arguably these are the most important pieces, as scoring tends to drop off slightly once in the playoffs. Their names are Clay Stevenson and Tyler Wall; this tandem of netminders have been some of the most consistent in the league thus far and will be an extra wrinkle for Florida to unravel. 

South Carolina’s easiest path to success in this series is to continue playing their game. It sounds simple, but both of the goalies I mentioned above should exert confidence into their team this postseason. This in turn will allow the Stingrays offense to push on the gas a bit more than other teams can. If South Carolina can capitalize on that momentum and come out to an early two goal lead after the first, that may be more than enough to put a game out of reach for this current Florida roster.

How the Everblades Win:

Florida is fighting an uphill battle to defend their Kelly Cup Championship here in the first round. Their best bet for success will be to keep the games close. Florida does not necessarily need to score a ton of goals in this series, but if they offer a strong two-way system and provide defensive support for Johnson, they could take this series.

As mentioned above, Florida and South Carolina played a very tight regular season series this year. Even though Florida won seven of those games they only outscored the Stingrays by 1.14 goals per game (excluding empty net goals). At the same time, in the three games that South Carolina took, they outscored Florida by 3 goals per game (excluding empty net and shootout goals).

The recipe is simple; suffocate South Carolina defensively and be comfortable leaning on Johnson. Florida has a stronger chance to win this series by keeping this a low-scoring affair for both teams rather than getting into a shooting gallery competition with South Carolina.

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