The Royals opened up the home portion of the playoffs like a brick house on fire outplaying South Carolina, who have had their struggles early in games. Just 2:40 into the game David Marshall stuffed a rebound by Jeff Jakaitis for the 1-0 lead. That lead would hold throughout the first 20 minutes of play, and Reading would lead after one period.
The Royals looked like the fresher team, but that would quickly change. Reading outshot South Carolina 17-7 in the first peirod, but that first period energy would flatten in the second. A Brett Flemming turnover would lead to the equalizer as Andrew Rowe went glove side on Knapp to tie it 1-1. The Royals are quickly learing that ill-timed penalties and careles puck play is a récipe for disaster, as South Carolina has been making them pay for their mistakes all series. Seven minutes later a former Royal would give South Carolina the lead. Michael Cajkovsky “Big Mike” beat multiple Reading defenders and blasted one by Knapp for the 2-1 Stingrays lead. Reading would get into some penalty trouble a few minutes later as Olivier Labelle would take a slashing minor. A minute later South Carolina made it a two-goal lead at 3-1 after a nice pass from Herbert found Dolan on the side of the net and he snuck it in by Knapp. Reading would make it a one-goal affair as Marshall buried his second goal of the game on a 2-on-1 shorthanded opportunity with Mullane. The score was 3-2 South Carolina after two periods of play.
The Royals got some momentum after that second goal but it would not last. At the 11:47 mark of period three, after a few good chances for each team, South Carolina got their two goal lead back. Wayne Simpson would tee a slapper on Connor Knapp and that pretty much sealed the deal, making it a 4-2 South Carolina lead. Patrick Gaul would add the empty netter and the Stingrays would take Game 3 and a 2-1 series lead.
The Royals were looking to bounce back Saturday night inside Santander Arena but it would not be easy, as the first period suggested. Reading would shake the lineup up a bit as Adam Hugheman was scratched, replaced by the speedy Matt Hatch. Referee Andy Thackaberry had his whistle going strong in the first period resulting in numerous loud boos from Royals faithful. Just 50 seconds into the game, Andrew Johnston received a somewhat questionable delay of game penalty. Also Ian Watters & Sean Devin picked up unsportsmanlike conduct minors as well. It didn’t take long for the Rays to strike first, as Marcus Perrier unloaded a snapshot that flat out blew by Connor Knapp glove side for the 1-0 South Carolina lead just 1:29 into the opening frame. Thackaberry’s whistle would get quite the workout, though it was tough to hear over the boos of the crowd at some points, but the Royals held strong and killed five penalties they faced in the first period to keep them trailing by one after 20 minutes of play. Shots were 12-7 in favor of South Carolina after the first period. Reading did have a nice share of chances in the first as Olivier Labelle, who has held off the board all series, had a short side opportunity but Jakaitis smothered that up. After numerous great chances to start the second period the Royals finally got a power play of their own as fans cheered, but the Royals could not capitalize. The team finally got this thing tied up at one as David Marshall, who has just been on a tear this postseason, scored his third in two games on a nice Jordan Heywood pass that Marshall buried into a wide open net. The teams remained tied after two.
The Royals all season loved the third period as they would always come up clutch, and just three minutes in Mike Marcou made it happen, going end to end around a couple of Rays players and tucked it backhand on Jakaitis for the 2-1 lead. The Rays were down a man as Reid blasted one of their defenders moments prior which lead to that goal. Marcou then pumped his teammates up and the crowd by raising his arm to tell them this game was theirs. The Royals would get some insurance at 6:44 mark of the period as Jordan Heywood would score his third of the postseason on a short side bullet to make it 3-1. Reading, who was 0 for 9 on the powerplay in this series, finally would put one by Jakaitis on a nice goal by Pat Mullane for the 4-1 lead. The Rays made it interesting 18 seconds later as captain Andrew Rowe got a pass off the boards and roofed it to cut it to 4-2. But the Royals stood tall the rest of the way and without many Thackaberry whistles to take the 4-2 win and tie series at two games a piece. The team will try to take the lead in the series in a 5pm Sunday matinee in Game 5.
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