By Andrew Miller
The Post and Courier
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – South Carolina Stingrays goalie Josh Johnson (pictured) lay face down in the crease at the Carolina Coliseum Saturday night.
Just seconds earlier, the rookie had the game-winning overtime goal from Columbia defenseman Reid Cashman slide off the back of his skates and into the net, forcing Monday’s decisive Game 5.
The Stingrays will take on Columbia in Game 5 of their best-of-five South Division final series at the North Charleston Coliseum beginning at 7 p.m. The winner will advance to the American Conference finals against the winner of the Cincinnati-Reading series.
With the game tied at 2, Cashman got the puck just inside the Inferno blue line. Cashman took a shot that Johnson stopped, but the puck fell to the ice and squirted underneath him. As Johnson was trying to locate the puck, his skate nudged the puck over the goal line for the winning score.
Johnson lay on the ice for several seconds before a couple of Stingrays teammates skated over to console the former Minnesota-Duluth star.
“There’s really nothing you can say to Josh to make him feel better,” said Stingrays captain Cail MacLean. “You almost want to stay away from him because you know how he’s feeling. I think everyone in our locker room felt terrible for Josh because without him we wouldn’t be where we are right now in the playoffs.
“We were down 0-2 to Augusta and Josh came in and shut the door on them in three straight games. He’s a big part of this team. The only thing you can tell him is to keep his head up.”
The Stingrays certainly have plenty of experience in Game 5’s during the Kelly Cup playoffs. This will be their third Game 5 in the past three weeks. South Carolina defeated Augusta and Gwinnett in decisive Game 5s en route to the South Division finals.
“I think we can draw on that experience and that helps us (Monday),” MacLean said.
“We’ve faced elimination in each of the first two series we were in, and we seem to play our best hockey when our backs are against the wall.”
South Carolina coach Jared Bednar said he won’t change much about the Stingrays’ game plan on Monday. The Stingrays limited the Inferno to just 17 shots on goal and just eight shots through the first two periods in Game 4.
“I really liked the way we played Saturday night,” Bednar said. “Defensively, that’s about as good as we can play. We limited their shots, we limited their scoring chances and we were good inside our own zone. I felt like we deserved a better fate.
“We took (Sunday) off so we could re-energize and refocus on the Game 5. I really like our chances to win if we can come out with the same intensity level and the same effort we had in Game 4.”
The fact that the Stingrays will be playing Game 5 at the North Charleston Coliseum shouldn’t hurt their chances. The Stingrays are 8-0 at home during the postseason.
“We certainly are playing with a lot of confidence in our own building,” MacLean said. “We’ve been playing really well in our own building, and hopefully that will continue (Monday). Our fans have been great. We’ve been feeding off their energy, and they’re a big part of the reason why we’ve made it this far in the playoffs.”
“Davis has plenty of experience in the playoffs and he came through for us in Game 5 against Gwinnett,” Bednar said. “Davis didn’t have a great game in Game 3, but we were not very good in front of him. We’ve got a lot of confidence that he’ll get the job done.”