South Carolina Leads Series 2-0
Stingrays Beat Cincinnati 3-1

By Andrew Miller
The Post and Courier

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – That’s more like it.

Maxime Lacroix (pictured) and Michael Dubuc each had a goal as South Carolina used a suffocating defense to beat Cincinnati, 3-1, Monday night in Game 2 of the American Conference final at the North Charleston Coliseum.

With the victory, the Stingrays lead the best-of-seven American Conference final, 2-0, heading into Game 3 at Bank of America Arena in Cincinnati on Wednesday night.

Two days after a lackluster defensive performance in Game 1, the Stingrays turned in one of their best defensive efforts of the playoffs, allowing just nine shots on goal over the final 40 minutes.

“That’s the type of game that I like,” said South Carolina coach Jared Bednar. “That’s what I want and expect out of our guys every night. We didn’t give up any odd-man rushes, we were strong on pucks in all three zones and we won most of our one-on-one battles.

“Our defensemen were strong all night. We were muscling guys off the puck and we were moving our feet. Our coverage was great and we used our sticks really well. We kept things simple, if we didn’t have a play, we chipped it off the walls and let our forwards chase down the pucks.”

South Carolina goalie Jonathan Boutin was rarely challenged and, after giving up an early goal to Matt Macdonald, stopped the final 14 shots he faced.

“The guys played unbelievable in front of me, especially in our defensive zone,” Boutin said. “It seemed like we were everywhere tonight. We blocked so many shots. We had sticks in the passing lanes. We were great.

I think it was one of our best defensive games of the year.”

While the Stingrays defensemen certainly did their part, the forwards were committed defensively, stopping any odd-man rushes and working hard on the back check.

“It wasn’t just the defensemen,” Stingrays defenseman Johann Kroll said.

“A lot of the credit goes to the forwards as well. They were awesome. They kept the puck inside Cincinnati’s zone a lot and that makes our job that much easier.

“A lot times in a game like this everyone points to the defensemen, but the forwards have just as much coverage in the defensive zone, so they deserve a lot of the credit as well.”

The Cyclones’ lack of scoring chances has head coach Chuck Weber searching for answers as the series shifts back to Cincinnati.

“We just couldn’t get anything going offensively,” Weber said. “South Carolina is playing really well. That’s the best team we’ve seen all year over in that other locker room. We had way too many turnovers and they capitalized on those mistakes, but that’s playoff hockey.

“I know our guys are capable of more, and we have to show a lot more character and start winning those one-on-one battles.”

The Cyclones grabbed a 1-0 lead on Macdonald’s goal 3:55 into the game. Macdonald picked off a pass in neutral ice, skated into the offensive zone by himself, catching the Stingrays in a line change, and beat Boutin with a slap shot over the glove side.

The Stingrays answered five minutes later on Dubuc’s third in the series.

After a turnover behind the net, Nikita Kashirsky got the puck on the boards and whipped a pass into the slot to Dubuc, who one-timed it past Cincinnati goalie Loic Lacasse for the score.

The Stingrays pushed their advantage to 2-1 on Lacroix’s fifth goal of the playoffs.

Lacriox got behind the Cyclones defense down the left boards, skated into the Cyclones offensive zone and blasted a shot past Lacasse from just above the left faceoff circle for the score.

“I played with (Lacasse) in juniors, so I know him pretty well,” Lacroix said. “I came down with Keith (Johnson), but the pass really wasn’t there, so I just wanted to get something on net. It was nice to score on him.”

Trent Campbell finished off the scoring with an empty-net goal in the final minute of regulation.