This time, the Orlando Solar Bears made sure to take the initiative to the South Carolina Stingrays for more than 10 minutes.
Getting the payoff still required a little patience, but the expectation was that once the Solar Bears could find a way to end their scoring drought they weren’t going to be satisfied with one.
Tayler Thompson did the honors just after Friday night’s first intermission, leading to a three-goal second period that carried the Solar Bears to a 3-2 victory that squared up their ECHL playoff series at one game apiece.
Mitch Hults ended his own personal scoring slump with two goals, helping the Solar Bears erase the sting of getting shut out in Game 1.
Orlando peppered Stingrays goaltender Parker Milner with 32 shots through the first two periods before spending much of the third on the penalty kill.
“We needed a bounceback game and we got it,” Thompson said. “To go down 0-2 headed to their barn would have been tough.”
The victory didn’t come without some tense moments in the final period, though. The Solar Bears twice were forced to stave off a 5-on-3 South Carolina advantage — executing the first but falling four seconds shy on the second attempt.
Tad Kozun’s goal after a fluky carom off the rear boards pulled South Carolina within a goal, with a chance to tie it when Alex Schoenborn was whistled for a high-sticking infraction with 5½ minutes remaining.
The Solar Bears killed that penalty off, though, and survived the Stingrays’ finishing flurry to even the series 1-1.
“I called everybody over [during a timeout] and just told them to relax,” Solar Bears coach Drake Berehowsky said. “On that first goal, we were trying to do too much. That’s a time when you’ve just got to make the simple plays.”
Connor Ingram, who allowed just one goal in the Solar Bears’ Game 1 loss, turned aside 25 shots to backstop Friday night’s win. He had a shutout going until Grant Besse’s goal midway through the third period.
The series now shifts to Carolina for the next three meetings, starting with Game 3 on Wednesday. Game 4 will be played Friday, April 19, with the teams returning to North Charleston Coliseum one night later for a fifth game.
“We’ve got a couple days to rest now,” said Berehowsky, who gave the team a free weekend to keep fresh legs. “We’ll get back on the ice Monday and get back to business.”
The Solar Bears won three of five regular-season meetings in North Charleston, including a 3-2 comeback on March 30 that began their push toward finishing second in the ECHL’s South Division.
Playing the third of a four-game, five-night road trip, Orlando trailed 2-0 after two periods before erupting for three in the final stanza.
“It’s in the back of our minds a little bit,” Thompson said. “Obviously it’s a new season, but we know we can win there.”
Said Stingrays coach Spiros Anastas: “It’s just the first team to four wins. You can’t get too high; you can’t get too low. We’ve got three games in front of our home fans, but we can’t take anything for granted.”
Berehowsky was critical of the Solar Bears for lack of energy in Wednesday night’s 2-0 loss, and it didn’t take long in Thursday’s video session for that point to shine through.
“They all agreed it wasn’t good enough,” Berehowsky said. “That’s one good thing about this team — they all want to grow and they all want to get better.”
Hults suggested everyone was eager to redeem themselves on Friday night.
“In the pregame skate, our energy was much higher too,” he said. “We knew what we needed to do.”
Despite that renewed vigor, though, the Solar Bears couldn’t put anything past Milner. The first period ended 0-0, extending Orlando’s scoreless drought to more than 107 minutes going back to the final game of the regular season.
Thompson finally sent a jolt through the lineup by scoring 2:42 into the second period. Slowing up to collect a lagging puck, Thompson skated in and deked Milner to his right before sliding the puck between the goalie’s skate and the post.
“It’s a huge boost,” Thompson said. “Going down 1-0 deflates their bench, too. I think it was two shifts later and Mitch scored. The momentum was huge, getting those goals.”
It took less than three minutes for Hults to make it 2-0, knocking home the rebound of Troy Bourke’s redirection of a Chris LeBlanc shot. It was Hults’ first goal since Jan. 12 at Norfolk, a span of 20 games without lighting the lamp.“
He came out this morning and practiced angry. That was a good thing to see,” Berehowsky said. “I’m proud of the way he’s battled, and hopefully he’ll continue to have success.”
Hults struck again on the power play later in the period, cashing in when South Carolina’s Mason Mitchell was whistled for a major penalty on a slew-foot trip of Akim Aliu. Mitchell also was assessed a match penalty and ejected.
The goal, coming from a sharp angle on the right, ended an 0-for-11 Orlando outage on the power play to begin the postseason.