b>By Andrew Miller
The Post and Courier
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – Jeff Corey was just looking to dump the puck, but instead came away with the goal of the year for the South Carolina Stingrays.
Zach Tarkir had a goal and an assist and James Reimer stopped 26 shots to lead South Carolina past Florida, 4-3, Friday night in Game 3 of the South Division finals before a crowd of 2,625 at the North Charleston Coliseum.
The Stingrays lead the best-of-seven series, 2-1, with Game 4 coming up Saturday at 7 p.m. at the North Charleston Coliseum.
Leading 3-1 midway through the third period and with the game still very much in doubt, Corey had a highlight-reel goal, skating almost the length of the ice through nearly the entire Everblades team to give the Stingrays a three-goal advantage.
After a turnover, Corey got the puck at the Stingrays blue line, shrugged off an Everblades defender in neutral ice, stepped past Florida defender Brad Zannon and beat goalie David Leggio with a nifty backhand move for the score that gave the Stingrays a 4-1 lead with 12:58 left in the game.
“We wanted to get the puck in deep all night, so at first I was just going to dump it in their zone,” Corey said. “When I got to the red line, I realized that their guys were a little flat-footed. I just went hard to the net and was fortunate to get a nice goal.
“I had a nice goal last year in Europe and that was a game-winning goal as well. The goal tonight was a big goal because it gave us a little breathing room. Florida was coming at us pretty hard in third period.”
It turned out to be the game-winning goal.
“That was absolutely incredible. The best goal I’ve seen this year,” said Stingrays winger Spencer Carbery. “That was an Alexander Ovechkin-like goal. We always give Jeff such a hard time about the number of breakaways he gets during a game. I bet he’s had 25 breakaways this season.
“And when he scored that goal everyone on the bench just kind of looked at each other and went ‘wow.’ That’s as good as it gets.”
Defenseman Patrick Wellar probably had the best view of the goal.
“That was an unbelievable goal,” Wellar said. “I know Jeff hasn’t scored as many goals as he would have liked this season, so for him to get a goal in that situation and with that kind of effort was great to see.”
But as good as Corey was, it was the Stingrays defense that was the difference in the game. The Stingrays got an inspired effort from their defense and seemed to frustrate the Everblades’ high-powered offensive attack all night.
The Stingrays won despite the absence Travis Morin, the team’s leading scorer, who missed his second straight game with an injured wrist.
“It was a big win for us no matter who was in or out of the lineup,” said Stingrays coach Jared Bednar. “Certainly, we would love to have Travis in the lineup, but we’ve got a lot of depth on this team. I thought we had some guys step up and we didn’t have any passengers.”
The Stingrays grabbed a 1-0 lead on Keith Johnson‘s power-play goal midway through the opening period. Sixty-six seconds later, the Stingrays pushed their advantage to 2-0 on Nikita Kashirsky‘s goal with 6:46 left in the first period.
Defenseman Brad Farynuk found Kashirsky behind the Everblades defense just outside the blue line on a mini-breakaway. Kashirsky tried to put the puck between Leggio’s legs for the goal, but the Everblades goalie made a nice stick save. The puck squirted into the corner where the Moscow native picked it up, walked into the slot and beat Leggio with a wrist shot.
The Everblades closed the gap to 2-1 on Ross Carlson‘s power-play goal with 10:23 left in the second period.
The Stingrays answered three minutes later on Tarkir’s power-play goal to make it 3-1.
Carlson got his second goal of the night after a scramble in front of the net with 32 seconds left in the game.
But the Everblades couldn’t muster another scoring chance in the final seconds.