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The South Carolina Stingrays won an intense Game 7 against the Reading Royals in the East Division Semifinals, and it appears as though they’ve carried that momentum onto the Division Finals, beating the favored Florida Everblades in the each of the first two games of the series.
Everblades goalie Daniel Altshuller had an impressive shutout in the decisive Game 6 against the Orlando Solar Bears in the first round, filling in for starter Allen York after a scary injury in the Game 5. However, the Stingrays found success where Orlando could not, tallying five goals (Drew MacKenzie, Rob Bellamy, Marcus Perrier – 2, Wayne Simpson) against the Florida netminder, eventually forcing Everblades Coach Greg Poss to pull him in favor of Brad Barone (who started the playoffs on the Stingrays roster). Florida would get a goal from Adam Brace in the third period to close the gap to 5-3 (Matt Marquardt and Mitch Wahl had the first two goals for Florida), but that would be as close as they would get. Joe Devin would add an empty-netter, giving South Carolina a 6-3 victory in Game 1.
Altshuller’s struggles would continue in Game 2, as ECHL MVP and Goalie of the Year Jeff Jakaitis would steal the show for South Carolina. Jakaitis made save after save, turning asided 38 of the 40 shots from the Everblades. The Stingrays were up 3-0 in the third period behind goals from Andrew Rowe (2) and Patrick Gaul before Florida would muster a couple of tallies of their own from Marquardt and Mike Little. Devin would once again add the late dagger and the Stingrays would take Game 2 by a final score of 4-2.
The Stingrays could not have asked for a better start to this series. They are now up 2-0 in the series, which now shifts to their home ice. Florida, on the other hand, has dug themselves a hole that will be tough to remedy. The Everblades will now have to win at least two of the three games on the road in order to have a chance to see their home ice again this season. It is definitely possible, as South Carolina was actually a better team on the road (25-9-2) than they were at home (20-11-5) this season. The Everblades will need to sure up their defensive end of the ice, as allowing ten goals through the first two games of this series is alarming. Jakaitis is too good to be given that much of a cushion. Game 3 is Tuesday night, as the Everblades try to claw their way back into this series.