By Andrew Miller
The Post and Courier
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – It must be the suit.
South Carolina goalie Davis Parley stopped all 23 shots he faced and Travis Morin and Stephen Werner each scored as the Stingrays blanked Columbia, 2-0, in Game 5 of the South Division finals Monday night before a crowd of 3,055 at the North Charleston Coliseum.
With the victory the Stingrays advanced to the best-of-seven American Conference finals against Cincinnati, a 6-1 winner over Reading Monday night in Game 7 of the North Division finals. It’s the first time since 2001, the last time the Stingrays won the Kelly Cup title, that South Carolina has been to the conference finals.
Games 1 and 2 of the American Conference finals will be at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati this Friday and Saturday night. Games 3 and 4 will be at the North Charleston Coliseum May 14 and May 16. Game 5, if necessary, will be played at home on May 17.
South Carolina Stingrays coach Jared Bednar is not normally a superstitious person, but he has worn the same beige “summer suit” for every elimination game during the Kelly Cup playoffs. The Stingrays are 5-0 in Bednar’s “summer suit.”
Some of the players begged to differ with their coach.
“You can’t go against the suit,” said Stingrays captain Cail MacLean. “(Bednar) can’t wear it every game, but we haven’t lost yet with him in it. I think it is beyond being a coincidence.”
Of course the performance of Parley didn’t hurt the Stingrays cause. Playing in his second decisive Game 5 in the last 10 days, the former Florida Panthers draft pick came up his second shutout of the playoffs.
Parley made 33 saves in a 2-0 victory over Gwinnett in Game 5 of the South Division semifinals and was equally as sharp against the Inferno on Monday night.
“I’ve been a little bit critical of our goaltending in the playoffs, but I told the guys that that wasn’t very fair,” Bednar said. “Davis was phenomenal tonight and really earned us that win. We did a great job defensively, but they got some sporadic pressure on Davis throughout the game and sometimes those are the most difficult games to play in as a goalie because you’re not seeing shots on every shift.”
Parley said he drew on his Game 5 performance against Gwinnett, but gave most of the credit to the Stingrays defense.
“I can’t ask for anymore than what the guys did in front of me tonight,” said Parley, who improved to 6-3 during the playoffs. “Most of the shots I got were from the outside and guys were diving in front of pucks all night. They had a couple of good chances and either someone blocked the shot or I was able to come up with the save.
“I think having that Game 5 against Gwinnett helped me tonight. Having that experience certainly didn’t hurt.”
The Stingrays are now 9-0 at home during the Kelly Cup playoffs and 5-0 at home in elimination games.
“The crowd was fantastic again for us tonight and we’re playing really well at home in the playoffs,” McLean said. “I don’t know that I’ve been through something like this before where we’re so good at home and we can’t win on the road. Cincinnati is going to have home ice in the next round and if we want to get to the Kelly Cup finals we’re going to find a way to win on the road.”
The Stingrays forecheck worked well again, forcing turnovers and rarely allowing the Inferno to break out of their offensive zone.
“I really liked the way we’re playing defensively,” Bednar said. “We played very well in the neutral zone tonight and didn’t allow them to get very much in transition.”
Werner gave the Stingrays an early 1-0 lead just 2:40 into the game with his power play goal.
“One of the things we talked about before the game was getting to rebounds,” said Werner, who notched his fifth goal of the playoffs. “You’re not going to score unless you get to the net.”
Morin gave the Stingrays a 2-0 lead with his goal seven minute into the second period. MacLean took a hard wrist shot from just outside the right faceoff circle that Ford stopped with his pads. But the puck bounced right out the Morin, who chipped it over the Inferno goalie for the score.
“Good things usually happen when you put the puck on net,” Bednar said. “Just another case of us getting to rebounds.”