After a delayed start to the game due to traffic, the South Carolina Stingrays (45-15-6-1) ran their winning streak to a season-high six games with a 3-1 victory over the Jacksonville Icemen (25-35-4-3) on Friday night at the Veterans Memorial Arena.
Goaltender Jeff Jakaitis made 21 saves in the contest to earn his 17th win of the year for South Carolina, who has 45 wins and 97 points in the standings through 67 games. Forward Kelly Zajac also picked up a goal and an assist to reach the 50-point mark for the second consecutive season with 20 tallies and 30 helpers.
The Stingrays took the lead at 7:28 of the opening period while on their first power play of the contest. Jonathan Charbonneau one-timed a cross-ice feed by Zajac off of goaltender Austin Lotz and into the net for his third power play goal in four games. Jake Kamrass was credited with the second assist for SC.
Zajac scored his 20th goal of the season to make it 2-0 at 15:44 of the first after Nick Roberto got to a loose puck in the near corner of the offensive zone and found Steven Whitney through net-front traffic, who faked a shot and slid the puck over to Zajac who tapped it in from the side of the net.
Jacksonville cut the lead to 2-1 in the second, scoring the only goal of the frame with two seconds remaining on a power play opportunity. Forward Tanner Eberle got the tally on a deflection in front of the net at 6:05, his 20th goal of the season for the Icemen.
Early on in the third period the two teams produced a scrum that accounted for a total of 30 penalty minutes and included a fight between J.C. Brassard and Everett Clark. South Carolina was unable to score on their ensuing power play and the score remained 2-1.
With 10 minutes remaining in the game, Jakaitis made a jaw-dropping save on Jacksonville’s Jimmy Lodge, robbing the forward of the tying goal to keep SC in front. After Lodge seemingly moved through the entire Stingrays’ team, he made one final move that got Jakaitis sliding out of position to his right. But the Rays’ veteran netminder still managed to stop the shot with his glove, keeping the puck out of the net.
Late in the game, a slashing penalty to Tim Daly of Jacksonville had South Carolina on a man-advantage opportunity. As it was coming to a close, Paul Geiger put the puck on net and rookie forward Mason Mitchell found the rebound at the side of the cage and swept it home for his first ECHL goal in his first game with the Stingrays. Mitchell, who was re-assigned to SC earlier in the day, was also helped by defenseman Tommy Hughes who had the second helper on the goal which was scored at 18:48 of the third and gave the Stingrays a 3-1 lead, which they carried until the final buzzer sounded.
South Carolina was 1-for-5 on the power play in the game, while Jacksonville also finished 1-for-5 on the man-advantage.
The Rays and Icemen meet for the final time during the 2017-18 season on Saturday night at the Veterans Memorial Arena 7:30 p.m. SC will return home to face the Florida Everblades on Tuesday at the North Charleston Coliseum at 7:05.