NORTH CHARLESTON, SC- With game 7 hanging firmly in doubt, the Wheeling Nailers came alive. As they have done all season, the Nailers used the third period to start a rally and scored three goals in succession. The onslaught proved too much for the Stingrays to overcome. Wheeling now advances to the Kelly Cup Finals to take on the Allen Americans.
The Nailers opened the scoring for just the second time of the seven game series. John McCarron picked up his eighth goal of the post season with a wrist shot that eluded Vitek Vanecek at the 2:21 mark of the first.
The Stingrays got the wakeup call they needed and would respond 68 seconds later. David Pacan managed to get a piece of a Wade Epp shot from the point and deflect it past Brian Foster to level the score at one. With the goal, Pacan extended his point streak to 10 games.
Wheeling retook the lead later in the period. McCarron fired a shot which slipped through Vanecek and sat on the line for Cody Wydo to tuck in his eighth of the playoffs.
The Stingrays answered back though, as Austin Fyten took advantage of a late powerplay to tie the game at two. The goal gave Fyten an eleven game point streak.
After an offensive first period for both squads, the second period was much quieter. The frame was even in terms of chances and both goalies were up to the task stopping all 19 of shots they saw.
Wheeling came out a completely different team in the third. The pressure got to the Stingrays rookie netminder, who would surrender three goals the period’s first six minutes. Jarrett burton, fresh off the game winner in overtime of game 6, started the scoring 24 seconds with a goal off of a Clark Seymour rebound. Wheeling’s Jordan Kwas struck 54 seconds later to build the lead to 4-2. Ty Loney capped off the barrage by cleaning up a Cody Wydo rebound to extend the lead to 5-2 at the 5:03 mark. Vanecek had been giving up rebounds for most of the series and Wheeling was able to capitalize on those chances in game 7.
South Carolina earned a 4-on-3 powerplay a little over a minute after the Loney goal and got looks but couldn’t beat Foster. The lead proved to be insurmountable and the Stingrays fell 5-2 to a tough Wheeling squad.
The players and coaching staff would refer to it as an excuse but injuries to key players for the Stingrays made their job a lot harder. Once Derek DeBlois went down with injury the Stingrays powerplay unit really struggled. Vanecek was more than capable in net, but not having the luxury to play veteran Mark Dekanich also hurt. Wheeling was able to rotate goalies in and out just as the Stingrays had done in the first two rounds.
Despite the injuries, South Carolina had chances to close out the series but Wheeling would just not go away without a fight. After a hard fought series by both teams, there is no doubt Wheeling will be a tough out for the Americans.
The 2016-2017 season begins in five months for South Carolina on the road at Greenville on October 22nd.