NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. - The South Carolina Stingrays (28-30-5-1) were unable to recover from an early 2-0 deficit in the first period and fell to the division-leading Florida Everblades (45-15-5-0) by a final score of 4-3 on Saturday night at the North Charleston Coliseum.
Stingrays forward Grant Besse scored twice in the game, securing his team-leading 27th and 28th goals on the year, while defender Miles Liberati added a tally in the final minutes to allow the Rays a late opportunity at evening the game.
Florida got out in front right away when Philippe Hudon scored on the first shot of the game, redirecting an attempt by Derek Sheppard into the net at 1:04 of the first to make it 1-0.
The Everblades added to their lead at 5:47 of the opening period when Blake Winiecki deflected a puck past goaltender Parker Milner during a power play opportunity to push the advantage to 2-0.
South Carolina got on the board at 12:49 of the first on Besse’s first strike of the game. Forward Jordan Samuels-Thomas found the attacker in open space during a delayed penalty and Besse did the rest of the work, taking the puck to the net and beating netminder Jeremy Helvig. Defenseman Chase Harrison was credited with the second assist on the Stingrays’ opening goal of the game.
Florida’s Ben Masella put the Everblades ahead by two goals once again at 3-1 with a tally at 9:52 of the middle period after a turnover by the Rays in neutral ice.
Later in the frame, Besse once again got South Carolina within a goal, scoring his second of the night at 13:24 of the second from forwards Patrick Megannety and Josh Gratton. This time the University of Wisconsin graduate found a loose puck at the center of the offensive zone and quickly wristed the biscuit past Helvig’s glove to make it a 3-2 game.
The Stingrays outshot Florida 11-9 in the second and came into the third period with momentum, but were never able to get an equalizer.
Winiecki picked up his second goal of the contest, which turned out to be the game-winner, at 10:14 of the third to push the Florida lead to 4-2.
South Carolina wasn’t done, putting on a late push and once again cutting the score down to a one-goal difference when Liberati scored his first as a member of the Stingrays at 17:17. Forward Tad Kozun controlled the puck deep in the offensive zone and then dropped it off to the defender along the right wall, giving Liberati plenty of space to fire a wrist shot past Helvig and into the net from the bottom of the right circle.
The Rays pulled Milner for an extra attacker in the final 1:40 of play, but were unable to equal the score. South Carolina outshot the Everblades 9-5 in the third and 25-23 overall in the game.
Helvig earned the victory for the Blades with 22 saves in the game, while Milner took the loss for the Stingrays despite turning aside 19 shots. The power play goal for Florida in the first period served as the only man-advantage tally in the contest with the Everblades finishing 1-for-7 and the Stingrays ending at 0-for-3.
South Carolina remains tied with the Atlanta Gladiators for the fourth and final playoff spot in the South Division, each team having secured 62 points in the standings.