The first of two games with the South Carolina Stingrays at Germain Arena lived up to the billing as the top two teams in the ECHL clashed Friday night. It wasn't the outcome the Florida Everblades had hoped for, losing 2-1.
With several call-ups of defensemen this week, the Everblades added three-time Stanley Cup Champion Brian Rafalski to the roster in a move that not only bolsters their defensive pairings, but provides unparalleled experience to a team talented enough to make another deep run in the playoffs. That experience came into play Friday with Rafalski standing out every time he hit the ice.
Despite the addition, South Carolina was first to score, taking advantage of their first power play opportunity just 6 1/2 minutes into the contest by drawing Blades net minder Trevor Cann (21 saves) out of position. With Rafalski off the ice, Stingray forward Igor Gongalsky found an easy open net for a shot, flipping it into the top corner for the 1-0 lead.
Rafalski's presence settled the Blades quickly after the goal, and Florida entered the first intermission down 1-0 clearly dominated by the visiting squad.
Florida came out in the second period with more urgency and focus, winning the opening faceoff and quickly tied the score at 1-1 on Trevor Bruess' fifth goal of the year.
With the score knotted heading into the final period, the Everblades looked to take the lead early, but Carolina goalie Jeff Jakaitis (29 saves) was there each time, turning away all would-be scorers, limiting the Blades' second chance opportunities.
"I thought it was a pretty even game," said Blades coach Greg Poss. "Unfortunately we have a lot of guys getting opportunities (in the AHL) right now and we are just not doing enough with the ice time we are getting. It's tough to win 1-0, but at the end of the day we have to find a way to score more than one goal."
South Carolina's game-winner came less than seven minutes into the third period.
The Everblades (20-13) look for revenge against their division rival when they meet again Saturday night.