Stingrays Playoff Primer: Nailing it Down

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Posted May 12, 2016

(courtesy Sarah Hobday)

For the fifth time in franchise history and second straight year, the South Carolina Stingrays are in the Eastern Conference Finals. They will face the Wheeling Nailers, affiliate of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, for the third time in postseason history.

The Nailers won the previous two matchups in the Kelly Cup Playoffs, beating South Carolina three games to one in a best-of-five Conference Quarterfinals series in 2011, and sweeping the Stingrays in four games in the 2014 Conference Quarterfinals.

The teams faced each other only once this season, a Friday-Saturday series in the first week of December. Wheeling took game one 3-2, followed by a Stingrays response at 6-1 the next night. To give you an idea of how long ago this series was, current AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton starter Casey DeSmith was a backup, Andrew Rowe had three assists in game two, and Ryan Ruikka, Colin Mulvey, Jordan Kwas, Brendan Ellis, Paul Rodrigues, and Louis Belisle were all on the active roster. None of those players are with their initial teams now.

WHEELING NAILERS

In six games against the Florida Everblades, only Games 4 (5-4) and 5 (4-3) were decided by one goal, both Nailers’ victories. They are 5-2 at WesBanco Arena in these playoffs.

Leading scorer Riley Brace carried his production over from his 67 point regular season (26 goals, 41 assists) to have 14 (four goals, 10 assists) in 13 games. He is one of 25 players through two rounds to average a point per game or higher. The only teammate among Brace’s production is defenseman Matthew Maione, with five goals and eight assists.

In the blue paint, the Nailers thought they had their No. 1 starter in Franky Palazzese, a returning goaltender from last season. He started the first three games against Florida, but Brian Foster replaced him after allowing three goals on 11 shots in Game 3. Foster started and won the next three games to help the Nailers advance.

In their second round matchup with the Reading Royals, head coach David Gove did not have an easy job picking a starter. It was easy enough when the offense provided a strong effort, like four goals in Game 1, but much harder when the scoring is not there, like one goal on 38 shots in Game 3. Foster started and finished Games 1-3 while Palazzese played all 104:03 of the Nailers’ triple overtime Game 4 and their subsequent Game 5 loss. Foster allowed three goals each of the next two games, but his offense delivered eight and four in Games 6 and 7 respectively for team victories.

Remember Jordan Kwas? He’s now a lineup regular in Wheeling, contributing two goals and two assists in the last series against the Royals. This is the third ECHL team this season for Kwas; he opened the year with Colorado, was traded to South Carolina, then subsequently traded to Wheeling. He found his goal scoring touch in West Virginia, tallying seven in total over 33 regular season games.

SOUTH CAROLINA STINGRAYS

It took yet another edition of “Joe Devin Game 7 Heroics” to push the Stingrays into the Eastern Conference Finals. Four games went to a one-goal decision, including a 1-0 score for the Rays in Game 2, while two more were blowouts in favor of the Lowcountry. The Stingrays are 5-1 at North Charleston Coliseum.

Devin, Kelly Zajac, and Caleb Herbert are among the skaters with a point per game or more while Austin Fyten rests right behind them at 11 points in 12 games. The Stingrays are losing major scoring power in Derek DeBlois, who is likely out for the playoffs with a lower body injury sustained in Game 5. Jared Staal replaced DeBlois, but has shown nothing on the scoresheet in two games.

Give Trevor Gillies and Marcus Perrier all the crap you want about not being skill players; they do not care. Both players fill the “tough guy” role well on a team that went second in the ECHL to Colorado in penalty minutes. Should any funny business arise in the course of the series, expect head coach Spencer Carbery to deploy either or both of them to end it.

After playing just two games for the Toledo Walleye to begin the season, Stephan Vigier found a home on the Stingrays roster. He tallied three times during the series against Adirondack after going pointless in the first three games. For the Stingrays to advance without DeBlois, Vigier  or Staal must step up to fill his role.

UPDATE: The Hershey Bears have released Adam Carlson, a Washington Capitals goaltending prospect out of Mercyhurst, from his Amatuer Tryout and he will join the South Carolina Stingrays on an Amateur Tryout under emergency conditions. This is largely due to the injury sustained by Mark Dekanich in the first overtime of Game 7 against Adirondack. Carlson, who saw no game action and sat as backup in the last regular season game in Chocolate Town, will wear #29 for the team.

See: Photos of Game 7

SERIES SCHEDULE (Stingrays home games in BOLD)

Game 1 – Friday, May 13 at 7:05 p.m. at the North Charleston Coliseum

Game 2 – Saturday, May 14 at 7:05 p.m. at the North Charleston Coliseum

Game 3 – Wednesday, May 18 at 7:05 p.m. at WesBanco Arena

Game 4 – Friday, May 20 at 7:35 p.m. at WesBanco Arena

Game 5 – Saturday, May 21 at 7:35 p.m. at WesBanco Arena (If Necessary)*

Game 6 – Monday, May 23 at 7:05 p.m. at the North Charleston Coliseum  (If Necessary)*

Game 7 – Tuesday, May 24 at 7:05 p.m. at the North Charleston Coliseum  (If Necessary)*