ESTERO, FL - Forward Michael Kirkpatrick scored with just 2:20 left in the third period to break a 3-3 tie and give the Florida Everblades (19-3-1-2) a 4-3 win over the South Carolina Stingrays (15-5-3-1) at Germain Arena on Friday night.
The Stingrays were led by three skaters that recorded two points as Paul Geiger picked up a goal and an assist and both Andrew Cherniwchan and Joey Leach added two helpers apiece. Goaltender Parker Milner made the start for South Carolina and turned aside 27 saves in a losing effort.
Neither team was able to break through and get on the board during the first period, but a late penalty to Florida's Brett Bulmer for hooking put the Stingrays on the power play to begin the second frame.
Taylor Cammarata converted with his seventh goal of the season just 42 seconds into the middle period, giving South Carolina a 1-0 advantage. The quick forward got the puck on the left side of the zone and slapped a shot to the top right corner of the net by a screen from captain Joe Devin with assists from defensemen Geiger and Kris Bindulis.
The Everblades evened the contest at 1-1 on forward Dave Dziurzynski's third goal of the year at 7:23 of the second. Florida then took the lead for the first time five minutes later at 13:05 on a goal by Mitchell Heard, which made it 2-1.
South Carolina produced a quick response at 14:27 when Geiger deflected a shot by Cherniwchan past scrambling goaltender Martin Ouellette to tie the game at 2-2. After an initial shot by Leach from the left point, Cherniwchan found the rebound on the right circle and moved behind the net, creating chaos in the Florida zone. The Hinton, Alta. native had excellent patience and held on to the puck as he continued to control things in the offensive zone before unleashing a wrist shot from between the circles that found the back of the net.
The see-saw battle of a second period continued when the Everblades re-took the lead at 3-2 on Kirkpatrick's first goal of the night at 17:49.
But the Stingrays once again evened things up at 3-3 when Kelly Zajac buried a wrist shot from the right circle off a pass by Cherniwchan. Leach was credited with the second assist on Zajac's fifth goal of the season, which came in the final minute of the period with just 54 seconds remaining in the frame.
The two teams continued to battle in the third period with both sides looking for a chance to get out in front again. After the Stingrays had the puck in the offensive zone for an extended shift, Florida came down the ice in the opposite direction and John McCarron found Kirkpatrick with a lane into the SC end. The forward put a backhand shot past Milner and into the top right corner of the net with just 2:20 to go that put the Everblades in the lead for good at 4-3.
South Carolina pulled Milner for an extra attacker in the final minutes, but was unable to even things back up and fell in the second contest of their three-game set this week in Estero.
The Everblades outshot South Carolina 31-22 in the contest, while the Stingrays finished 1-for-2 on the power play and Florida was unsuccessful on the man advantage, going 0-for-4. Ouellette stopped 19 shots to pick up his 11th win of the season for the Everblades.
The Stingrays now have 34 points and sit in second place in the South Division standings. South Carolina and Florida finish their 3-game series on Saturday night inside Germain Arena at 7 p.m.