By Andrew Miller
The Post and Courier
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – If the South Carolina Stingrays were suffering from any kind of hangover from their hard fought series with Florida, it didn’t begin to show itself until the third period of Saturday night’s game against Cincinnati.
Matt Scherer (pictured) and Michael Dubuc each scored two goals as the Stingrays jumped out to a five-goal lead and held off a late Cincinnati rally for a 7-4 victory in Game 1 of the American Conference final before a crowd of 3,050 at the North Charleston Coliseum.
With the victory, the Stingrays lead the best-of-seven series, 1-0, headed into Game 2 Monday night.
For two periods, the Stingrays didn’t show any lingering effects — emotionally or physically — from their intense six-game series with the Everblades.
The Stingrays skated to a 6-1 lead after two periods and appeared to be headed toward an easy victory in Game 1.
“It probably wasn’t the best 40 minutes of hockey that we’ve played in the playoffs, but it wasn’t bad either,” said Stingrays assistant captain Spencer Carbery. “Cincinnati didn’t play well, you could tell, and we buried the chances we got in the first two periods. I think maybe we relaxed a little bit in the third period because things had come so easily for us in the first 40 minutes.”
The Cyclones, the defending Kelly Cup champions, scored two goals in the first 68 seconds of the third period and added another goal on a Mark Van Guilder penalty shot to close the gap to 6-4 with 10 minutes to play in regulation.
“I didn’t like the last 20 minutes, that’s for sure,” Stingrays coach Jared Bednar said. “Our intensity level wasn’t anywhere near where it needed to be and where it was during the Florida series and this is a bigger round.
“To be honest, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the first 40 minutes. I don’t think either team played their best hockey and I don’t think it’s any indication of what this series is going to be like the rest of the way.”
Johnson scored after a delayed penalty was called on a Cyclones defender. With the extra attacker on the ice, Johann Kroll took a shot from the point that bounced off the boards behind the net. The puck rolled into the crease and it appeared that Cyclones goalie Ryan Nie had touched it to end the play. But referee Andy Thiessen let the play continue and Johnson knocked the puck into the net for the score.
After an Ian McKenzie goal to cut the gap to 3-1, Dubuc scored on a slap shot from the point that Cincinnati coach Chuck Weber and the Cyclones believe went through the side of the net.
“There was a hole in the side of the net,” Weber said. “So from our angle we thought it went through the hole, but the four guys on the ice, the ones that really matter, didn’t see it the same way.”
Dubuc wasn’t sure how the puck got into the net, only that it did.
“I just saw the red light go on, so I started to celebrate,” Dubuc said. “I don’t know how it got in, but it did.”
Trailing 6-1 going into the final period, the Cyclones made things interesting with two power-play goals in the first 68 seconds from Barret Ehgoetz and Mac Macdonald to close the gap to 6-3.
Pierre-Luc O’Brien finished off the scoring with an empty net goal with 1:25 left in regulation.