By Andrew Miller
The Post and Courier
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – After losing his cool in Game 2 Saturday night in Charlotte, Maxime Lacroix was worried he might not be in the lineup for Game 3 against the Checkers.
While South Carolina Stingrays head coach Jared Bednar thought about taking Lacroix out of the lineup, he went with a gut feeling that the talented rookie would respond with a strong effort Tuesday night.
He was right.
Lacroix had two goals and Keith Johnson got the game-winning goal early in the third period to lead South Carolina past Charlotte, 4-2, in Game 3 of their South Division semifinal series before a crowd of 2,131 at the North Charleston Coliseum.
Despite the win, the Checkers lead the best-of-seven series, 2-1, going into Game 4 Thursday night.
Lacroix racked up 21 penalty minutes and played one of the poorest games of his young professional career in the Stingrays’ 5-3 loss to the Checkers in Game 2.
“I wasn’t sure what was going to happen,” Lacroix said. “I didn’t know if I would play tonight or not. I’m glad that (Bednar) showed confidence in me to put me back in the lineup, and I tried to go out and do everything I could to help us win the game.
“I let my emotions get the best of me and I took some undisciplined penalties (Saturday). I wanted to come out here and redeem myself.”
“We had some tough decisions to make,” Bednar said. “I can’t say that I didn’t think about keeping Maxime out of the lineup, but he plays on all of our special teams and there have been a lot of special teams so far in this series.
“Maxime played well tonight. He kept his game clean and he kept his game simple. He really let Charlotte get to him in the first two games and tonight I thought he was the one agitating them. To see him bounce back like he did was great.”
The Stingrays had 81 penalty minutes and had been forced to kill off 23 penalties, which led to five power-play goals, in the first two games of the series. While the Stingrays still had to kill off eight Charlotte power plays, they were much more disciplined in Game 3.
“As a team we played a much cleaner game and didn’t let the calls get to us,” Bednar said. “It wasn’t perfect, but it was a step in the right direction.”
The Stingrays generated plenty of scoring chances in the first period, but two costly turnovers inside their defensive zone led to back-to-back Charlotte goals by Ethan Graham and Matt Schepke and a 2-0 lead at the end of the first period.
“We actually thought we played well that first period,” said Stingrays assistant captain Nate Kiser. “We needed to keep our composure. We had two periods, it’s a long game and it’s a long series. We just didn’t want to get too frustrated.”
The Stingrays came out in the second period and immediately jumped all over the Checkers getting two goals in less than two minutes from Lacroix and Spencer Carbery.
“Maxime got that first goal and then Spencer tied it up,” Johnson said. “That really gave us some momentum the rest of the game.”
Johnson gave the Stingrays the game-winner less than four minutes into the third period. He picked off a puck in neutral ice, split two Checker defensemen and ripped a shot past Charlotte goalie Jeff Jakaitis for the score.
Lacroix pushed the Stingrays advantage to 4-2 on a back-handed shot after a scrum in front of the net.
“After the way things have been going it was nice to get a bounce go our way,” Lacroix said.
Bednar hopes the Stingrays will be able to build on the win going into Game 4.
“I think we got a little bit of our swagger back,” Bednar said. “Charlotte held serve by winning the first games on home ice, now we’ve got to do the same.”