By Andrew Miller
Special to the Daily News
CHARLESTON, S.C. — Damian Surma scored a rebound goal less than two minutes into overtime to lead the Florida Everblades past the South Carolina Stingrays, 4-3, Monday night to clinch the best-of-five American Conference quarterfinal.
The Everblades won the series, 3-1, and may face Gwinnett, which won its series with Mississippi. Florida is the third seed and Gwinnett is the fourth, but the teams are re-seeded in the next round and top-seeded Pensacola is trailing eighth-seeded Greenville, two games to one, heading into tonight’s Game 4. No. 2 seed Columbia is tied in its series with No. 7 Charlotte.
Reggie Berg (pictured) drove hard to the net and took a shot that South Carolina goalie Kirk Daubenspeck couldn’t control. The puck rolled out into the crease and Surma hoisted it over Daubenspeck for the game-winner.
“This has been one of the best and most intense series I’ve been involved with,” said Florida coach Gerry Fleming. “I went into the locker room before the overtime with a big smile on my face and told them, ‘Boys, you’ve got to love this game. It’s the greatest game in the world.'” This is the third time in the last four years the Everblades have eliminated the Stingrays in the playoffs. The Stingrays have just one win against the Everblades in eight playoff games.
The Stingrays grabbed a 1-0 lead on Ed Courtenay’s power-play goal midway through the first period.
Courtenay got the play going with a hard check on Florida defenseman Ryan Brindley behind the net. The puck squirted free to Brad Parsons, who slid it back to Rich Peverley on the point.
Florida grabbed a 2-1 with back-to-back goals in less than 20 seconds late in the second period.
Chris Lee picked up the loose puck in the high slot and tied the game when he blasted a shot past Daubenspeck with 3:45 left in the second period.
Seventeen seconds later, Ernie Hartlieb gave the Everblades a one-goal lead when he got behind the Stingrays defense and put a backhand over the glove of Daubenspeck.
The Everblades appeared to put the game away 90 seconds into the third period when Keith Anderson redirected Surma’s backhander between the legs of Daubenspeck for a 3-1 advantage.
But the Stingrays answered with two straight goals from rookies Joe Tenute and Peverley.