KALAMAZOO — A three-goal outburst in the third period helped push the Kalamazoo Wings to a 4-1 victory over the South Carolina Stingrays on Saturday night at Wings Stadium. The victory, coupled with a 6-4 win on Friday night, gives the K-Wings a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven second round matchup.
The K-Wings hit the road this morning for Charleston, S.C. Game three is scheduled for Wednesday night, with game four and if needed, game five on Friday and Saturday night.
A strong defensive game by both teams resulted in a 1-1 tie that carried over from the first period into the third.
The Stingrays struck first in the game, marking the first time in the playoffs that the K-Wings did not score the first goal. A Paul Oreskovic shot was deflected into the net by Chris Higgins to give the Stingrays the early 1-0 lead just over three minutes into the frame.
Darryl Bootland tied the game later in the period with a power play goal from the midslot, his third of the postseason.
“Playing with two guys like Helminen and Trent (Daavettila), you’ve just got to find the open area and they’re getting it to me. It’s definitely been a lot of fun. It was a big goal; it felt great,” Bootland said
Head coach Nick Bootland was particularly happy to see the power play goal.
“I was starting to get a little concerned because that was our third power play that we finally scored on in that period. We were getting a ton of opportunities, we just couldn’t find the back of the net,”Bootland said.
The Bootland goal would be the only goal scored for the next period and a half. The K-Wings outshot the Stingrays 18-7 in the first period. Both teams had six shots apiece in the second.
“I felt like it wasn’t going to happen (another goal),” the younger Bootland said. “It’s playoffs and you just have to be patient. I think that is what we did. We were very patient out there and took our time and stuck to the game plan.”
For their part, the Stingrays had three power play chances of their own in the second period, including a 5-on-3 opportunity, but came up empty.
“We were playing smart defensively and even on the penalty kills, back to back to back in the second period, we really went out there and took care of business,” forward Eric Kattelus said.
Taking their first lead of the game midway into the third period, Dwight Helminen scored the eventual game winner. “The puck came across a little bit behind me,” Helminen said. “I had to corral it with my feet, then kicked it to my stick. It was huge.”
A few minutes later, Kattelus would make it a two-goal game. Flying off the bench and swiping the puck from center ice, Kattelus charged down the ice sending the puck over the shoulder of Stingrays net minder Rob Madore.
“I just got the puck and it looked like that defenseman was looking to take the body, so I dropped my shoulder and got around him and put it on net and it went in,” Kattelus said. “A great goal, though.”
With the Stingrays winning three overtime games in the first round, coach Bootland was not feeling comfortable until the Kattelus goal.
“I certainly wasn’t breathing until the third one went in,” Bootland said. “The type of game it was and to play in a tight game like that is good for us. Those are the type of games you’re going to have to win to win playoff games, trying to find a way at the end to finish it out.”
Nick Sirota scored the empty net goal with just under a minute to go in the game for the 4-1 K-Wing victory.
Earning both victories on home ice puts the K-Wings in good position as they head out on the road, but this series is far from over, especially if the final seconds of Saturday night’s game was any indication.
Two brawls broke out in the final minute between Darren Archibald and Harry Young for the K-Wings and Greg Stewart and Oreskovic for the Stingrays.
Bootland was neither aware nor surprised about the physical ending to the game.
“They’re both competitive teams and four competitive guys trying to set the tone for each other,” Bootland said. “Tough guys on both sides that did a great job, just showing they’re not going away lightly. It’s not going to be easy. If we’re going to win this series, we’re going to have to work on taking it. They’re not going to give it to us.”
Kattelus pointed to a balanced team effort in the win.
“We were pretty quick to gain momentum and hold it,” he said. “I think there were a lot of individual efforts out there that just came together and we just skated really well together as a team tonight.”
Darryl Bootland expects a hard test down in South Carolina. “We just have to focus on not changing what we’re doing, what’s working,” Bootland said. “They are going to come out hard and there in their home rink and have a good show for their fans. So we are looking forward to it.”