North Charleston,SC – Game two of the eastern conference finals was a tale of two games. The first of which lasted until midway through the third period was controlled by South Carolina. Wheeling rallied and took over the remaining two and a half periods to tie the series in double overtime.
The Nailers opted to go for fresh legs and brought in goalie Franky Palazzese to try and change up the momentum from game one’s 3-0 loss. Wheeling was able to get more quality chances toward Vitek Vanecek but it was South Carolina that would strike first. Austin Fyten broke free and beat Palazzese through the five hole on a breakaway in the first period’s final minute.
The Stingrays defense did a good job of containing Wheeling’s offense in the second period to perimeter shots. The opportunities that the Nailers did get were turned away by Vitek who was on fire.
South Carolina broke the game open late in the second when Joe Devin scored his tenth goal of the playoffs from Brett Cameron and Kelly Zajac at 16:35 of the second. Then 1:01 later Caleb Herbert tipped a point shot from Joey Leach past Palazzese for the 3-0 leave. The game seemed destined for a repeat of game one’s 3-0 shutout win for the Stingrays.
The turning point of the game was not one single event, Wheeling gradually battled their way back in to it in the third period. After the game, Wheeling Assistant Coach Jeff Christian tweeted “In between 2nd and 3rd period I asked the team to stick together and battle for each other. That’s what great teams do.”
The Nailers took Christian’s words to heart and with the Stingrays sitting back, Wheeling took control. The comeback began when Derek Army dropped a pass to Clark Seymour in the slot to cut the lead to 3-1 with 5:56 to go in the third. Matthew Maione found the late guy Paul Cianfrini who fired it over the glove of Vanecek to cut the lead to 3-2 just 1:34 later. The Stingrays clung desperately to the one goal lead when Wheeling pulled Palazzese with under two minutes to play. A point shot from Maione found its way in off of John McCarron with 1:12 to go in the game to tie the game at 3-3.
South Carolina started the first overtime period with a powerplay but couldn’t generate anything offensively. They would get two more powerplays in the period but the aggressive play by Wheeling defenders kept them off the board.
The South Carolina would get its fourth powerplay of overtime just over a minute in to the second overtime. It was their best looking powerplay of the series so far but Palazzese stood tall to kill it off turning several chances away.
Wheeling was due for a powerplay of their own and eventually got one when Marcus Perrier threw a punch at Brett Stern in the offensive zone. It would not take long for the Nailers powerplay to make Perrier pay. Jarrett Burton fought his way to the South Carolina net and deked out Vitek Vanecek to send the series back to Wheeling tied at one.
South Carolina head coach Spencer Carbery was visibly upset as he spoke after the loss. “Our guys better understand quickly that this team is not going quietly. You’re not going to walk your way to the Kelly Cup Finals” Carbery Said. The Stingrays were outshot 13-4 in the third period. Carbery added “To win it’s a grind and you have to play exceptional every shift. You have to be ready for them they are not going to fold.”
Goalies Mark Dekanich and Vitek Vanecek had gone 170:24 without allowing a goal for South Carolina before Seymour scored in the third period.
Both teams will now get a chance to rest after playing three games in four nights. The series shifts to Wheeling for game three on Wednesday May 18th at 7:05 pm.