A three-goal outburst at the start of the third period propelled the South Carolina Stingrays (25-10-4-1) to a 3-1 victory over the Orlando Solar Bears (18-18-5-1) Friday night at the North Charleston Coliseum.
The home tallies all came in a span of fewer than three minutes at the start of the final frame, with Kelly Zajac, Hampus Gustafsson and Danny Federico each scoring for the Stingrays. Defenseman Frankie Simonelli chipped in with two assists, while goaltender Jeff Jakaitis turned aside 19 shots and earned the win in between the pipes.
In the first 40 minutes, the run of play and shots on goal both favored the Rays, but neither team was able to get on the scoreboard.
With things still scoreless at the start of the third period, the Stingrays capitalized on a penalty to Orlando's Kristian Pospisil for elbowing that came 25 seconds into the frame. During the ensuing power play, Zajac fired a quick shot up high off a cross-ice pass by Simonelli that made its way past Solar Bears’ goaltender Cal Heeter. The tally, which came at 1:13 of the third, gave South Carolina a 1-0 advantage that they never relinquished. Defenseman Tommy Hughes also picked up the second assist on the goal.
Seconds later, Gustafsson found a lot of space on a rush down the right wing in the Orlando zone and beat Heeter with a low shot for his third goal of the season to make it 2-0. An unassisted tally that came just 40 seconds after Zajac’s strike opened up the game and also marked the home goal in North Charleston for the rookie forward.
Finally, Federico capped off the scoring with his second of the season at 2:38, putting the game out of reach for Orlando with a shot from the top of the left circle that found its way to the net with traffic in front of the goal. Simonelli and Marcus Perrier were credited with assists on the blueliner’s third career goal.
In addition to the third period outburst, the Rays played lock-down defense all night, keeping the Solar Bears’ chances at a minimum including just seven shots on Jakaitis in the third period. South Carolina has the top-ranked blue line in the ECHL this season, allowing just 2.4 goals against per game through 40 contests.
The victory was the first for the Stingrays this season against Orlando, who had won the previous four meetings to start the year. South Carolina has now defeated all of their South Division opponents this season and sit in second place with 55 points.
Zajac’s power play tally gave the Stingrays an advantage on special teams as well, going 1-for-6 on the night while Orlando finished 0-for-3. The Rays outshot the Solar Bears 37-20 in the game, with Heeter making 34 saves.
The two teams match up again on Saturday during South Carolina’s annual Pack The House Night as well as Military Appreciation at 7:05 p.m.