From Staff Reports
The Post and Courier
ESTERO, Fla. – South Carolina coach Jason Fitzsimmons figured there was still plenty of good hockey left in goalie Gregg Naumenko.
He was right.
Naumenko stopped 46 shots and Carlyle Lewis (pictured) had a goal and an assist to lead the Stingrays past Florida, 4-3, Friday night in Game 2 of an ECHL American Conference quarterfinal series played in front of 5,575 at Germain Arena.
With the victory, the Stingrays evened the best-of-five series with the Everblades at 1-1 and seized home-ice advantage. Game 3 will be tonight at 7 at the North Charleston Coliseum with Game 4 on Monday night.
Naumenko, who did not start in the Stingrays’ Game 1 loss on Wednesday night, stopped 22 straight shots at one point during the game.
“Gregg Naumenko was the story of this hockey game,” Fitzsimmons said. “He’s been a total professional since he came here two months ago. I thought he was square to the puck all night and played a great game in maybe the biggest game of the season for us. He was the difference in the game.”
Florida’s Kris Vernarsky scored the only goal of the first period when he banged home a rebound after a shot from Chris Lee went in and out of Naumenko’s glove with five minutes left in the opening period.
The Stingrays failed to score and managed just two shots on goal despite having two power plays during the first period.
“Give Florida credit, they came out with guns blazing and we didn’t get many shots on goal,” Fitzsimmons said. “I thought Gregg kept us in the game during the first period.”
The Stingrays came out and took their first lead of the series in the second period with goals by Lewis and Brad Parsons.
Lewis scored on a power play at 15:02 of the second period when Kevin Spiewak got the puck to Trevor G. Johnson, who skated into the slot and fed Lewis on the left circle for the goal. It was Lewis’ second of the series. Parsons knocked a rebound past Florida goalie Tyler MacKay after Ed Courtenay was denied from the slot with less than four minutes left in the period.
The turning point of the game might have come three minutes into the second period when the Everblades enjoyed a five-on-three power play for more than a minute after a high sticking call on Matt Ried and a roughing penalty on Courtenay.
Florida, however, failed to score on the two-man advantage.
“Our penalty kill has been huge for us all season,” Fitzsimmons said.
“That was a crucial penalty kill for us. If Florida scores there, the game and the series is probably over.”
Reid gave the Stingrays a 3-1 advantage early in the third period. Reid spun away from Florida defenseman Tim O’Connell and beat MacKay with a wrist shot off the right post.
Former Stingray Ryan Brindley then pulled the Everblades to within 3-2 with a goal at the 6:30 mark of the final period.
South Carolina captain Trevor S. Johnson, though, got the game winner with 10:46 left in regulation. Rich Peverley skated into the Everblades’ defensive zone on a two-on-one odd-man rush. The rookie faked to the middle and then slid the puck to Johnson, who beat MacKay with a wrist shot.
The Everblades got one more goal from David Lundbohm with 2:30 left.
“I think we had something to prove here tonight,” said Trevor S. Johnson, who left Game 1 after being assessed a game misconduct and a five-minute spearing penalty.
“We had our backs against the wall and came up with a nice win.”