North Charleston, SC- South Carolina hardly looked like a team that just won a hard fought double overtime game just two days ago. Timely goals and stellar goaltending proved to be too much for Wheeling to handle as they fell 3-0 in game one of the eastern conference finals.
South Carolina jumped on the Nailers early and were poised to take the early lead until Spencer Humphries was called for slashing at 4:38 to put South Carolina on the Penalty Kill.
Penalty killing has been a strong suit for the Stingrays all season and on this night the unit was more of a power kill. The penalty killers were aggressive and were able to generate chances offensively. It would take 16 seconds for South Carolina to force a turnover and create an odd man rush. David Pacan got the puck to Austin Fyten who fired a wrister from the right circle past Brian Foster for the shorthanded goal.
Jared Staal found a loose rebound in front of foster at the 15:31 mark to extend the lead to 2-0. Stingrays carried the play despite being outshot 11-9. Most of wheeling’s credited shots were either dump ins or shots from long range. South Carolina was clearly in control of the period.
After disagreement between Caleb Herbert and Riley Brace at the end of the first, the two teams teams skated four on four to start the second. The extra ice allowed Joe Devin to find Bobby Shea wide open and he made no mistake to put South Carolina up 3-0 just 49 seconds in to the period.
South Carolina had a stranglehold on the game until they got a powerplay at 12:38 of the second. Wheeling prevented the Stingrays from even getting a shot on the powerplay and finally began to show signs of life. The Nailers accounted for four of the period’s five shots in the last 7:22 of the frame.
Wheeling was able to tilt the ice in their favor even further in the third period. The stingrays took three penalties that allowed them to get quality scoring chances. Vitek Vanecek was really tested in the third but his positioning was sound and was always in the right spot to keep the puck out. South Carolina defenders did a good job of clearing out rebounds and preventing Wheeling from keeping sustained pressure.
Credit goes to Brian Foster for hanging tough and giving his team a chance to mount a rally in the third period. David Pacan was stoned cold by Foster on a shorthanded breakaway. There were also at least two sequences where the puck was in a scramble allowing the Stingrays to get three cracks and Foster kept them out. It could have easily been a five or six goal lead for South Carolina.
Trevor Gillies made his presence known in a big one with a heavy hit on Andrew Ammon. Ammon, who played for the Stingrays last season, hit the boards violently and left the ice with a bloodied face. Gillies was not penalized for the play as he appeared to make contact with his shoulder. He would receive a boarding minor for another big hit on Kevin Schulze that sent Schulze’s helmet flying. Unlike Adirondack with Ryan Lomberg, Wheeling didn’t seem to have an answer for Gillies.
Game two of the series is tonight at 7:05 in North Charleston. The series shifts to West Virginia for Game three on Wednesday at 7:05 pm