By Andrew Miller
The Post and Courier
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – If South Carolina coach Jared Bednar ever questioned the Stingrays’ mental toughness, those doubts were put to rest Tuesday night.
Down 2-0 in the best-of-7 South Division series to Charlotte heading into Game 3, the Stingrays found themselves trailing 2-0 after the first period. And both goals the Stingrays gave up in the first 20 minutes were self-inflicted wounds.
“A lot of teams might have started looking for tee times at that point,” Bednar said. “We’d really dominated a lot of the play in the first period, but two mistakes ended up in the back of our net. I give our guys a lot of credit. They didn’t fold. There’s a lot of character in that locker room and the guys came out in the second period and really responded.”
The Stingrays tied the game with back-to-back goals just two minutes into the second period and coasted to a 4-2 victory in Game 3.
Bednar is hoping the momentum the Stingrays generated in Game 3 will carry over when South Carolina takes on Charlotte Thursday in Game 4 of the series at the North Charleston Coliseum at 7:05 p.m.
“I like the way we finished the game (Tuesday),” Bednar said. “I wasn’t thrilled with our first period, especially in our defensive zone, but I thought we came out after the first intermission and played pretty well.”
The Stingrays spent the first two games of the series in the penalty box. The Stingrays racked up 81 penalty minutes in the first two games that led to 23 power plays for the Checkers. While the Stingrays still had to kill off eight power plays by the Checkers in Game 3, their discipline was much better, Bednar said.
“It was a step in the right direction,” Bednar said.
After giving up an average of more than 40 shots in the first games of the series, the Stingrays defense, which features four players that have played at the American Hockey League level this season, allowed just 10 shots over the final two periods.
“I thought the first two games we were not playing our best,” said Stingrays defenseman Patrick Wellar. “We were running around and taking bad penalties. I thought (Tuesday) we played much better. We played smart, simple hockey and we were able to roll all six defensemen most of the night.”
Defenseman Johann Kroll took part in the Stingrays’ optional practice on Wednesday and could be in the lineup tonight. Kroll, who played the last two months in the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch, missed the last three weeks with a lower body injury.
“I want to get out there and play (Thursday),” Kroll said.