b>By Andrew Miller
The Post and Courier
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – It might have been an ugly goal, but for Florida’s Mark Lee it was a thing of beauty.
Lee’s power-play goal with 7:41 left in double overtime lifted Florida past South Carolina, 3-2, in Game 4 of the South Division final Saturday night before a crowd of 2,655 at the North Charleston Coliseum.
With the victory, the best-of-seven series is tied at 2-2 with Game 5 on Sunday at 5 p.m. at the North Charleston Coliseum.
It was almost an anti-climatic end to a marathon game of attrition between the two top teams in the American Conference.
After a delay of game penalty on Stingrays rookie Nikita Kashirsky for shooting the puck over the glass from inside the Stingrays’ defensive zone, the Everblades went on their second power play in four minutes during the second overtime period.
“Our power play has been good all year and we knew we had to come up big,” said Lee, who recorded his fourth goal of the playoffs. “The puck hit off of Milan in the slot and it just bounced right on my stick and I got a shot away and thank God it went in. Right place at the right time.
“It seems the ugly goals win the overtime games. South Carolina battled so hard tonight. They work so hard, we knew we were going to have to match their intensity in their home rink. It usually happens that way, you get a lucky bounce or a break that ends up winning the game.”
South Carolina coach Jared Bednar said he couldn’t have asked for much more from his injury-depleted team.
“I thought our guys came out in the second overtime and played really well,” Bednar said. “We had a number of chances to finish the game. In the third period either team could have won the game 10 times over. These are two evenly matched teams.”
The Stingrays were forced to play their third straight game without leading scorer and ECHL All-Star Travis Morin, who has been out with a wrist injury. Nate Kiser, a mainstay on the Stingrays’ blue line, was also out with an undisclosed upper body injury.
“We knew depth was going to be huge factor in this series with the potential of having five games in six days,” Bednar said. “Neither team was going to be able to play the same 16 guys every game.”
Jeff Corey, who scored both of the Stingrays’ goals in regulation finished with a game-high seven shots and was the most dangerous player in the ice for either team.
“He had a lot of legs tonight,” Bednar said. “He’s a great skater. He had a lot of jump. To be able to keep going like that in the second overtime period was impressive.”
After a sluggish first period in Game 3 on Friday, the Everblades came out with much more intensity and were rewarded on Gajic’s rebound goal with 11:53 left in the opening period.
The Stingrays answered and tied the game, 1-1, on Corey’s power-play goal with 2:31 left in the first period. Zach Tarkir took a shot from the point that Corey redirected past Florida goalie David Leggio for the score.
The Stingrays appeared to score again 30 seconds later when Maxime Lacroix redirected a shot past Leggio, but referee Geno Binda immediately ruled that the puck did not cross the goal line.
Florida’s Brad Herauf was assessed a major spearing penalty and a game misconduct for his hit on Kashirsky with 1:18 left in the opening period. The Stingrays, however, were unable to score on the five-minute power play.
“I thought that might have been the turning point in the game,” Cameron said. “The penalty kill really stepped up.”
The Everblades grabbed a 2-1 lead on Ross Carlson‘s slap shot from the right circle with 6:24 left in the second period.
The Stingrays answered again, scoring just 76 seconds later on Corey’s tap-in, his third goal in two nights against the Everblades.
The Stingrays had the best scoring chance midway through the first overtime period when Corey got loose on a breakaway down the left side. But Leggio came up with a stick save and the Stingrays failed to jump on the free puck in the crease.
“I got in pretty deep on (Leggio) and I tried to stuff it in,” Corey said. “The puck just slipped over my stick. It was just the bounces that you get in the playoffs.”
Both teams will have less than 24 hours to get ready for Game 5.
“We can’t be a discouraged hockey team (tonight),” Bednar said. “That game is behind us. We’re in a 2-2 series at home trying to put Florida into an elimination game. We have to let that go and be ready to play (tonight). Not only do we have to take care of our bodies, but have our heads ready to go as well.”