NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – After a disappointing loss on Friday, the Stingrays looked to even the series and proved they belonged in the Finals. They responded with a hard-nosed win to even the series and put their opponent on notice that the series has just begun. The South Carolina Stingrays skated to a 4-2 win over the Fort Wayne Komets to even the Kelly Cup Finals series at 1-1.
The Komets controlled the first ten minutes of the opening frame, forcing the Stingrays to be on their heels for a bit, before they seemed to find their feet and pushed back against the early pressure from the Komets. The Stingrays killed an early penalty and created some chances on a late power play but the first period came to a close with an even 0-0 score.
The second period belonged to the Stingrays. All of the scoring in the game occurred in the middle period as the game opened up both in terms of speed and physicality. Max Novak scored a power-play goal at 2:30 with assists from Justin Florek and Cole Ully. The Komets answered 18 seconds later when Anthony Nellis got the equalizer with assists from Shawn Szydlowski and Alan Lyszczarczyk.
At 6:28, Novak found Dan DeSalvo in between the circles, where he was able to bury it, to put the Stingrays up 2-1. Ully put the eventual game-winner in at 16:22 off of a feed from Matt Weis with the secondary assist going to Novak.
Fort Wayne once again responded with a goal 18 seconds later. There was a pile in front of Hunter Shepard and during the ensuing scrum, the net came off its moorings, and the officials determined the puck was across the line before the net was dislodged. Without the benefit of replay, the officials briefly huddled and determined it was a good goal. Stephen Harper was credited with the goal off of assists from Anthony Petruzzelli and Justin Vaive.
The second period saw one final goal at the 17:18 mark when Caleb Herbert found the back of the net. The play was set up with a great passing sequence from Andrew Cherniwchan and Zach Malatesta. The period ended with the Stingrays on their fourth and final power play of the evening. They could not convert, but they had good possession and were looking to stretch their 4-2 lead.
The six goals in the periods between the teams is tied for the third-most in a single period in Riley/Kelly Cup Finals history, according to the ECHL.
The final period started as a track meet with both teams racing the length of the ice, trying to make the big play. As play started to settle, the big hits kept coming and getting bigger. The corners saw lots of action, and players kept their heads on a swivel whenever they had the puck. Both teams had some opportunities, but the Stingrays settled back and played a defensive game for the second half of the period. The Komets pulled Dylan Ferguson with a little over two minutes left, but Fort Wayne could not solve Shepard late in the game.
Tempers flared again after the final horn as several players tangled near the Stingrays net. A few shoving matches with gloved punches kept the very lively crowd engaged. After the players were separated, the Stingrays players pumped up the crowd and the Carolina Ice Palace erupted into a near pandemonium in appreciation of the win.
The Stingrays finished with their home away from home playoff record standing at 4-2. The Carolina Ice Palace was not ideal for the players or fans, but they all seemed to make it work. The crowds may have been small but the fans were dedicated, engaged, and vocal in their support of the team.
As the series shifts to Fort Wayne for the final games, the Stingrays will have to find a way to take two games from a Komets team that is 4-1 on home ice this post season.
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