The Night the Lights Went Out in South Carolina

CHARLESTON, SC — When I was a kid, a song by Vicki Lawrence (which I hated, by the way) cracked the Top 40. It was called, “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia.” I was an AM radio junkie in those days, the salad days for Top 40 on the AM dial. Songs like that one were filler in the spring of ’73 while I waited for the ones I really liked such as the O’Jays’ “Love Train.” (You should hear the Yayhoos’ cover version, if you were a fan of the original, too.) Pop culture digression aside, tonight is the night that the lights went out in South Carolina. Literally.

The Stingrays are hoping the lights did not dim on their playoff hopes as a result of their 6-4 loss to the Columbia Inferno here on Tuesday.

Thirteen minutes after the 7:05 p.m. puck drop, the North Charleston Coliseum went dark. It was completely black, and then partial power was restored within a few seconds. A nearby transformer blew, and the backup generator kicked in to restore some level of brightness. The outage came while the Rays were trying to kill off a two-man disadvantage, and while they already trailed by a 2-1 count. South Carolina would not kill that 3-on-5 shorthanded situation.

After a 15-minute delay, play resumed. The Inferno converted on the two-man advantage, and South Carolina fell behind 3-1, then 4-1 and finally 5-1 at 13:04 of the first period. Stingrays goaltender Davis Parley was nicked for five goals on just nine shots, but it wasn’t all his fault. The last two goals came on breakaways. The first one came on a sharp wrister from the high slot, from a player (Brad Ralph) who was left to his own designs and given way too much time and space in that dangerous area of the ice. The second one came on a wrist shot from Luke Fulghum, who smartly used the big frame (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) of big South Carolina defenseman Sasha Pokulok as a screen. In short, Parley did not bear the sole blame for any of the five strikes.

Nevertheless, there were the Stingrays, trailing by four on home ice against Columbia, a team they’d gone 8-2 against going into Tuesday’s game.

The Rays were seriously banged up and depleted going into the game, and they lost winger Matt Stefanishion to injury just a few shifts into the contest. (Defensemen Sasha Pokulok and Tim Judy often played on the wing for the rest of the night.) At that point, it would have been easy for the Rays to pack it in for the night, but they did not.

Bowie, Md. native Judy made a smart pinch from the blueline to net South Carolina’s second goal. Chris Chaput had scored his 17th of the season for the Rays prior to the power outage. Down three goals entering the second period, the Stingrays began to show signs of life.

From the point at which Jeff Miles scored to give Columbia a 5-1 lead until the 5:50 mark of the second, the Rays outshot Columbia 10-0 over a span of 12:46. Parley made a huge coast-to-coast save on Mac Faulkner’s backdoor bid midway through the middle frame, keeping South Carolina within shouting distance. Soon after that, the Rays’ Cam McCaffrey schooled Tyson Marsh in a neutral zone bout. Parley then made three key stops while the Rays killed off a T.J. McElroy holding minor.

Seconds after that penalty was killed, South Carolina’s Peter Szabo brought the puck into the offensive zone with speed along the wing. Realizing that his angle for a quality shot was disappearing, and that his lane to pass to the onrushing Sasha Pokulok was closed, Szabo cleverly curled toward the net. The move enabled him to get the puck to Pokulok, who chipped it home for his third goal of the season. With 4:32 left in the second, South Carolina had closed to within two.

A minute after he scored, Pokulok launched a booming slapper that was set aside by Columbia goaltender Todd Ford. The Rays kept pressing, and the pressure paid off at the 17:46 mark. Seeing Szabo with the puck along the half-boards, Rays defenseman Viktor Dovgan made a Sergei Gonchar-like dash down the back side. Szabo fed him perfectly, and Dovgan one-timed it into the cage for his fourth goal of the season.

Dovgan went off for a cross-check seconds later, and South Carolina nearly tied it on a shorthanded wraparound try by Brendan Bernakevitch. It was one of several chances the Rays would have for the equalizer.

Parley kept the Rays in the game with a good save here and there when needed, and the Rays poured the pressure on Ford. South Carolina had two power play chances in the final period, and it had some high quality chances on both bids. The Stingrays moved the puck well, with Marc Busenburg patiently and smartly quarterbacking from the point. They won some battles in the corner, got pucks to the net, forced some goalmouth scrambles, and missed on some partial empty-net chances. Ultimately, they were unable to get the tying tally, and were undone by their slow start. Miles took the drama out of the evening with an empty-netter that completed his hat trick at 19:54.

Charlotte blanked Augusta 2-0 on Tuesday, leaving the battered Rays four points behind fifth-place Charlotte and six points behind fourth place Augusta in the ECHL’s South Division standings. The Rays have two games in hand on Augusta, but Charlotte has two games in hand on the Rays. South Carolina travels to Charlotte to face the Checkers on Thursday.

NOTES: Szabo had three assists on the night, taking over the team lead with 37 … Injured Stingray winger Cail MacLean helped out behind the South Carolina bench during the game … Two ex-Cap draftees were in uniform for Columbia on this night. Goaltender Robert Gherson (Washington’s fifth-round choice, 145th overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft) and winger Owen Fussey (the Caps’ third-round choice, 90th overall in the 2001 draft) are both with the Inferno. Gherson was the backup goaltender on Tuesday while Fussey registered four shots on goal … Former Stingray Marty Clapton was a surprise insertion into the Columbia lineup. The 32-year-old right wing spent six seasons with the Stingrays, but had been idle in 2006-07 until tonight.

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