WHEELING, WV- Special teams have been a staple for South Carolina all season. Tonight they were forced to lean heavily on both units. The powerplay, which had gone 0/14 in the series, broke out in a big way by scoring the game-winning goal with less than five minutes to play in regulation to tie the series at two a piece.
The game was much more physical than any previous of the series with Joey Leach throwing a large hit just seconds in to the game. Both sides were sound defensively blocking a majority of the chances thrown towards the net.
Wheeling had the first real opportunity to take break the tie with a lengthy five-on-three powerplay opportunity. South Carolina’s penalty kill held the Nailers to exterior passing and only allowed two shots on goal in 4:40 of total powerplay time. The two teams managed just ten shots total in a tight and scoreless first period.
The second period was much more of the same defensive work by both sides. For the fourth consecutive game, the Stingrays would open the scoring as Caleb Herbert worked his way in the zone and fired a long shot past Franky Palazzese at 4:57 of the second.
It would take just less than a minute for the Nailers to find an answer. Clark Seymour threw a pass to the front and Riley Brace deflected a shot over Vitek Vanecek’s glove to tie the game at 1 at 5:59. The second period was a tad more open than the first but that would be it for scoring in the period.
The Stingrays had been outscored 5-0 in the third period by Wheeling in the series to date. Another third period collapse looked to be on its way as Ty Loney picked up a turnover by Wade Epp and beat Vanecek just 48 seconds in to the third period. The puck just exploded off of Epp’s stick and Wheeling took advantage.
South Carolina did a good job of responding by mounting pressure but couldn’t find the equalizer. Eventually the defensive zone turnovers begin to stack up and Marcus Perrier picked off picked off a clearing pass and was allowed to walk in and tie the game at 2.
After going 0-for-4 South Carolina was given a fifth powerplay chance with James Melindy in the box for tripping. Kelly Zajac found rookie Brett Cameron on a mini two-on-one in front of the net to give the Stingrays a 3-2 lead with just under four minutes to play. It was a big strike for a unit that had looked a mess all series long.
South Carolina wasn’t yet out of the woods however as Austin Fyten was whistled for holding at 17:38 of the period. The comeback kids of wheeling couldn’t find the tying goal and David Pacan lifted the puck in to the empty net to seal the deal on the penalty kill. With the 4-2 win, the Stingrays ensure the series will return to North Charleston for game 6 on Monday.
With Joe Devin feeling under the weather, the Stingrays signed Dylan Margonari to an Amateur Tryout on an emergency basis. He wore the number 26 and skated mostly with Marcus Perrier and Trevor Gillies. Margonari was signed out of Minnesota State University-Mankato where he led his team to conference titles in 2014 and 2015. He registered 38 goals and 28 assists in 143 games for Mankato. Margonari seemed to fit right in with his fresh legs and made solid plays on both ends.
South Carolina is the second most penalized team in the Kelly Cup Playoffs with 78 times shorthanded just behind wheeling who has been shorthanded 82 times. Stingrays penalty Killing is first in the ECHL at 89.7% after killing all four opportunities by Wheeling tonight. The shorthanded empty net goals gives South Carolina three shortanded goals in the playoffs.
Stingrays forward Austin Fyten now has an eight game point streak with his assist on the Caleb Herbert goal.
Goalie Vitek Vanecek moves to 5-2 in the playoffs with a 1.98 Goals Against Average and 0.924 Save Percentage.
The two teams are right back at it saturday night with game five at 7:35 pm at WesBanco Arena.