ESTERO, Fla. – Jake Smith’s goal with 6:35 to play lifted the Florida Everblades to an impressive 3-2 victory over the South Carolina Stingrays in a battle of the two teams sitting atop the ECHL’s South Division Wednesday evening at Hertz Arena. The win was the third for the Everblades in three meetings between the rivals this season and gave Everblades head coach Brad Ralph his 300th regular-season win behind the Blades’ bench.
With the victory, the first-place Everblades now lead the South Division by three points over South Carolina.
A busy first period saw the Everblades jump out to a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes of action, despite being outshot 15-9. Cam Darcy struck first at 3:18 for his eighth goal of the season, while James McEwan potted his fifth tally of the season at 8:22. South Carolina halved the Blades’ lead off Kevin O’Neil’s unassisted goal at 13:19.
Matters tightened up in the second period, with the Stingrays drawing even at the 13:49 mark as Tarek Baker slipped the puck past Florida netminder Cam Johnson to knot the score at 2-2.
The Blades have owned the third period this season, holding a 54-29 scoring advantage over their opponents, and Wednesday night was no different. Smith’s game-winner was his 16th goal of the season and 12th as an Everblade, sealing the victory for Florida.
Two Everblades extended point streaks by way of first-period helpers. Oliver Chau extended his team-high point streak to six games, while Levko Koper extended his streak to three contests in his return to the lineup after sitting out seven games. Chau, who picked up his second assist of the night on Smith’s game-winner, has 10 points on two goals and eight helpers over his last six contests.
Johnson registered 31 saves to claim his ECHL-best 19th victory of the season. Florida outshot South Carolina 33-27, with both teams taking 18 shots over the final two periods.
The Everblades and Stingrays will meet again at Hertz Arena for the middle game of their three-game set on Friday. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m., before the series wraps up Saturday at 7:00 p.m.
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The Florida Everblades are the proud ECHL affiliate of the NHL’s Florida Panthers and the AHL's Charlotte Checkers.