Kelly Zajac scored twice, including the game-winner 57 seconds into overtime to help the South Carolina Stingrays (37-12-6-1) defeat the Greenville Swamp Rabbits (20-32-6-1) 4-3 and clinch a spot in the 2018 Kelly Cup Playoffs.
South Carolina has a spot in the ECHL’s postseason for the 24th time in their 25-year history. Their 37th win of the season gives the Stingrays 81 points in 56 games during the 2017-18 season.
Forward Matt Salhany opened the scoring for the Rays at 16:52 of the first period to make it 1-0 with his first goal of the year and his first as a member of South Carolina. The forward received a pass during a 2-on-1 from forward Nick Roberto and quickly let go of a shot that beat Greenville goaltender Brad Barone as he was moving to his right. The second assist on the play was credited to defenseman Joey Leach.
Zajac extended the lead to 2-0 with his first tally of the night on the power play at 18:23 of the first period. The forward picked up a loose puck at the side of the Greenville net and quickly wristed it home after a pass by Steven Whitney. Defenseman Mike Chen picked up the second helper on the play for his first career ECHL assist.
With the power play marker, the Stingrays have now scored man-advantage goals in four consecutive road games.
The Swamp Rabbits got on the board in the middle period on a goal by Dawson Leedahl at 8:48 to cut the score to 2-1.
Later in the frame at 18:04, Dylan Margonari scored his 14th goal of the year from Whitney and defenseman Paul Geiger to take back a two-goal advantage for the Rays at 3-1. The forward crashed the net and found a loose rebound in front of the cage after an initial shot by Whitney.
Greenville made a comeback run in the third to tie things up at 3-3 after goals by Leedahl at 8:57 and defenseman Matt Prapavessis at 10:17.
The Swamp Rabbits almost took the lead immediately after tying the game, but Joey Leach made a saving play on the goal line to keep things even at 3-3.
Greenville controlled possession at the start of overtime but after Paul Geiger wrestled it away in the Greenville zone, Whitney set up Zajac in front of the net. Zajac outwaited Barone before slipping the puck through the netminder’s legs to win the game. With an assist on the play, Whitney notched his third helper of the contest and 28th of the season.
The Stingrays are now 7-6 during 3-on-3 overtime this season. Goaltender Parker Milner got the start for South Carolina and picked up his 20th victory of the year with 27 saves.
Barone stopped 23 shots in a losing effort for the Swamp Rabbits, who outshot the Stingrays 30-27. South Carolina was 1-for-3 on the power play, while Greenville finished 1-for-4.
The two teams meet again on Friday night at the North Charleston Coliseum at 7:05 p.m.