Rays Stun Atlanta with Last Minute Goal
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. - A crazy last-minute sequence propelled the South Carolina Stingrays (34-31-5-1) to a 5-3 win over the Atlanta Gladiators (31-29-7-3) Saturday night in the team's final home game at the North Charleston Coliseum and set up a final showdown in Georgia for the final spot in the South Division postseason.
Forward Jordan Samuels-Thomas scored the game-winner with just 50 seconds remaining in the game to break a 3-3 tie, while forwards Tad Kozun and Cam Askew each netted two goals for the Rays.
The difference maker came immediately after goaltender Parker Milner stopped Nick Bligh at the front of the SC cage. Forward Stefan Legault picked up the puck and went right down the ice, with forward Grant Besse feeding the biscuit to Samuels-Thomas for a shot up high to put the Rays in front.
Milner finished the game with 41 saves to earn the victory, but none were bigger than the denial of Bligh that eventually set up the winner.
With the win, the Stingrays are now one point ahead of the Gladiators in the standings and can clinch a spot in the postseason with either a win or an overtime or shootout loss in the final contest of the regular season Sunday afternoon.
Kozun put South Carolina in front 1-0 with the opening goal of the game at 9:09 of the first, knocking home a rebound after an initial shot by defenseman Cameron Heath for his 16th tally of the season. Heath's d-partner Ryker Killins was credited with the second assist on the play.
Askew added to the lead in the final minute of the first, scoring his 16th of the season by redirecting a pass from Andrew Cherniwchan past Glads' goaltender Sean Bonar and into the back of the net. The second assist on the team's second strike of the contest came to Mason Mitchell and SC had a 2-0 lead at the end of the opening frame.
At 9:59 of the middle period Askew found the back of the net for the second time in the game and pushed the Rays' lead to 3-0 by scooping up a rebound in front and wristing it home for his 17th of the year. The Boston native's second of the game was assisted by Josh Gratton and Grant Besse.
Derek Nesbitt got the comeback started for Atlanta, scoring at 13:44 of the middle period to make it 3-1, but the Stingrays still had a two-goal advantage going to the third frame.
However goals by Bligh at 3:00 and Joel Messner at 9:48 evened the game at 3-3 and gave the Gladiators momentum.
But Samuels-Thomas put the Rays back in front at 19:09 and Kozun sealed the victory with an unassisted empty net goal at 19:32, setting up a winner-take-all end to the season.
Atlanta's Sean Bonar took the loss despite making 35 saves in the contest. The Gladiators scored the only power play goal of the night and finished 1-for-5 on the man-advantage, while the Stingrays were 0-for-4. The Glads also outshot SC 44-40 in the game.
The final game of the regular season on Sunday afternoon at the Infinite Energy Center will begin at 3:05 p.m.
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