DULUTH, Ga – The South Carolina Stingrays now face a 0-2 hole in their first round ECHL playoff series against the Gwinnett Gladiators after dropping the second game of the best of seven series here on Gladiators’ home ice Saturday night 3-2. The Gladiators’ Joey Haddad got the game winner with less than 17 seconds left in regulation to stun the ECHL’s regular season Most Valuable Player Ryan Zapolski with his second loss in two nights.
It was Haddad’s second straight game winner in the series. Zapolski, who also won league honors as Rookie of the Year and Goal Tender of the Year for his performance in the regular season was bested before 3,454 fans at the Gwinnett Center Arena.
The Gladiators jumped out to a 1-0 lead at 6:30 of the first period when forward Ryan Ginand corralled a misplayed puck from defenseman Ryan Button just inside the Gladiators zone and used his speed to break loose and move in all alone to beat Zapolski. The first period however ended 1-1 as ‘Rays’ responded at 14:49 of the period when forward Jay Silva beat winning goal tender Louis Domingue off a nice set up by Chris Langkow with a secondary assist going to forward Alden Hirschfeld.
After a scoreless second period in which the ‘Rays managed only four shots on net the Gladiators took their second lead of the game on a power play strike as at the 5:31 mark of period three. Rookie Evan Bloodoff got his first goal of the playoffs after a two assist night in the series opener. The strike turned out to be the only power play goal in the game. South Carolina went 0-3 with the man advantage while Gwinnett had the one score on just two power play chances.
Next up the ‘Rays responded to tie the game 2-2 as defenseman Derek Foam picked up a goal at 9:57 with helpers going to Button and Langkow. The game then appeared to be almost certainly headed for overtime until the ‘Rays balloon was deflated with the late game heroics of Haddad.
Losing goaltender Zapolski faced 39 shots on the evening while Domingue faced just 18 shots in picking up his second straight playoff win. The series now shifts to South Carolina as the ‘Rays try and revive their playoff fortunes starting next Wednesday at the North Charleston Coliseum. Tonight’s contest drew 3,454 to the Gwinnett Center Arena.
Contact the author at Phil.Brand@prohockeynews.com