By Craig Handel
ESTERO, Fla. – What looked to be a storybook finish turned out to be an ending all too familiar to Florida Everblades fans.
Defenseman Zach Tarkir‘s goal with 10:56 left in overtime Tuesday night gave the South Carolina Stingrays a 4-3 overtime win over the Everblades at Germain Arena before 3,748 in the ECHL Kelly Cup playoffs.
“We were kind of the underdogs coming,” Tarkir said. “But we knew they were going to come like hell at us.”
Trailing 3-1 with under 2 minutes to play, Florida made a valiant rally as defenseman Doug O’Brien scored with 1:29 left and forward Milan Gijac tallied another with just 19 seconds remaining in regulation.
But despite winning the Brabham Cup, the Everblades will not win the elusive Kelly Cup despite reaching in the playoffs for all 11 years of their existence.
“It’s like a bad dream,” Florida goaltender David Leggio said.
“It’s still unbelievable, still unbelievable that we lost,” Everblades defenseman Peter Metcalf said.
Florida outshot South Carolina, 52-14. One shot hit the post and another the crossbar. “What more can you say?” Florida coach Malcolm Cameron said.
All six games of this best-of-seven Southern Division Finals series were decided by one goal.
It appeared like this would wind up a two-goal South Carolina win.
The Stingrays scored what appeared to be a backbreaker on Trent Campbell‘s goal with 6:49 left.
A few fans started to make their way to their cars, but not many. Those who stayed witnessed the resilience that Cameron had bragged about.
With 19 seconds left, Gijac was alone on the left side and his airborne shot found the back of the net.
“There was lots of traffic,” South Carolina goaltender Jonathan Boutin said. “They really wanted to score.”
“At that point, we were ecstatic,” Gijac said.
Baker added, “I thought we had it.”
Florida kept the pressure on, but couldn’t get the game-winner. Instead that went to Tarkir, who won Game 1 with an OT goal.
The Everblades came out firing in the first period but only could manage a 1-1 tie with South Carolina.
Florida outshot the Stingrays 16-3 with many of them being quality.
Forward Matthieu Roy made a great pass to Baker but Boutin stopped him. Forwards Steve McJannet, Yannick Tifu and defenseman O’Brien followed with good shots to no avail, and forward Andrew Sweetland shot wide after skating in alone.
South Carolina went up 1-0 with 6:39 left in the first when forward Pierre Luc-O’Brien skated in, then around the net before wrapping the puck around and into the net.
However, just 38 seconds later, Florida tied it. Coming out of the penalty box, Gijac took a pass from McJannet, skated in by himself and lifted the shot home.
In the second period, Florida didn’t have as many chances but Sweetland was on the doorstep during a power play. His shot went wide.
The nearly four minutes straight of playing penalty kill caught up in the final 8 seconds when forward Nakita Kashirsky tipped in O’Brien’s shot from the point. Just 1:27 remained in the period.
South Carolina went up 2-1 on Campbell’s rebound goal in the second period.