Stingrays Roll into Kelly Cup Playoffs

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A week ago, the South Carolina Stingrays were engaged in their own heated, five-way battle for the ECHL playoffs. So, the Stingrays went out and won their last four games. Sound familiar? It should – their AHL affiliate, Hershey, is locked in a similar battle and need to win their final two games next weekend after a very strong showing in their two games this weekend.  

South Carolina started April at home against Orlando; the Solar Bears ultimately finished in the final playoff spot. The Stingrays emerged with a 3-2 victory when Joey Devin connected in overtime.

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Parker Milner appeared in five games with the Bears before returning to South Carolina – photo Julie Beidler

Orlando got the first goal against former Bear, Parker Milner, who stopped 37 of 39 shots. But South Carolina quickly tied the game when Kevin Dufour scored his second of the season later in the period. Former Bear Kelly Zajac assisted as did d-man Max Nicastro.

In the third period, the Stingrays took the lead when Marcus Perrier recorded his eighth goal of the season with Devin and Dufour assisting. But the Solar Bears forced overtime as they tied the game late in the third. In the OT period, Devin’s 15th goal of the season was perhaps his biggest as the Stingrays earned two big points in the standings.

Then they were off to Atlanta for the first of a home-and-home series against the Gladiators. The Stingrays won 3-1 in Atlanta and followed that up with a 3-2 victory Friday night at home.

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Joey Leach appeared in 18 games for the Bears this season – photo Julie Beidler

On Wednesday evening in Atlanta, the Stingrays scored a goal in each period en route to a 3-1 victory. Scott Tanski scored his 11th of the season late in the first period to give South Carolina the lead (Joey Leach and Andrew Cherniwchan assisted), but the Gladiators would tie the game just 34 seconds later. It was the only goal Milner would allow against 22 shots.

Derek Arnold scored his 15th of the season early in the second period to give the Stingrays the lead for good. Teammate Wade Epp, a 6’5″ defenseman added the insurance goal in the third. It was Epp’s 2nd of the season. Cherniwchan assisted on both goals while Devin and Tanski also earned assists.

In the rematch in North Charleston Friday, the Gladiators got two goals in the second period after a scoreless first. But the Stingrays responded with three goals in the third.

Nicastro, Tanski, and Dufour each scored in the final period while Milner locked it down in net, stopping 26 of 28 shots in the victory.

But their final game, against the Cincinnati Cyclones at home helped South Carolina earn third place. They defeated the Cyclones 4-3 in overtime to end Cincinnati’s season.

After the Stingrays stormed out to a 2-0 lead in the first, the Cyclones scored three straight goals to take the lead early in the third, but Devin came up big on the power play late in the third to tie the game.

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Kelly Zajac (39) appeared in 9 games for Hershey, scoring 4 goals and 3 assists

In overtime, Rob Flick, who scored the game’s opening goal, connected for his 31st goal of the season, propelling the Stingrays into the playoffs on a high note.

Flick led the team in goals (31) and points (63) this season. Zajac also broke the 50-point plateau with 13 goals and 39 assists.

Milner and rookie Adam Carlson should be in net for the Stingrays as they start playoffs. Milner was 26-14-2 this season with a GAA of 2.72 and a save % of .900 while Carlson was close behind with a save % of .895 and a GAA of 2.97 in 23 games. His record was 9-11-1.

Since the ECHL playoffs will be set up like the AHL playoffs, South Carolina will face off against the second-seed in the South, the Greenville Swamp Rabbits. The winner of that series will play the winner of the Florida Everblades and Orlando Solar Bears for the right to play in the Eastern Conference finals. Schedules for the Kelly Cup should be announced this week.

By Julie Beidler

About Julie Beidler

I teach 11th grade English. I currently serve as the Secretary for the Central PA Sports Hall of Fame and am a PIAA Track/Cross Country and Volleyball official. In my free time, I also freelance for The Lebanon Daily News and cover the Hershey Bears for https://novacapsfans.com/ providing pictures, videos, interviews and stories on the future Washington Capitals.
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