The first professional goal for defenseman Jesse Lees vaulted the South Carolina Stingrays (41-10-3-1) to an exciting 6-5 win over the Worcester Railers (18-33-4-0) on Sunday afternoon at the North Charleston Coliseum.
Combined with a loss for the Greenville Swamp Rabbits to Atlanta earlier in the day, the Stingrays officially secured themselves a berth in the 2020 Kelly Cup Playoffs.
Forward Steve Whitney registered a hat trick in the game for South Carolina, while both Max Novak and Kristofers Bindulis posted three assists apiece and Cam Askew netted a goal and an assist.
The Railers were ahead after each of the first two periods of the game, before coming from behind to force overtime. All three first period goals came in a span of under a minute from 6:54 to 7:40.
Worcester captain Barry Almeida got his team ahead at 6:45 of the opening frame, but Whitney responded for South Carolina at 7:32 with his first of the day from Novak to tie it up at 1-1. Just eight seconds later, however, Tyler Poulsen put the Railers back in front 2-1.
Whitney evened the game at 2-2 with his second goal just 1:31 into the middle period. The attacker banked the puck off of the back of goaltender Ian Milosz and was helped with assists from Bindulis and Novak.
The Rays then took the lead for the first time when Alec Marsh scored his third goal in as many games from Askew at 8:35 of the second to make it 3-2.
SC’s advantage was short lived though, as Worcester evened the game at 3-3 on a goal by Nic Pierog at 9:55. The Railers then took a 4-3 lead on a goal by Ross Olson at 18:06.
Worcester stayed in front until Askew got the Rays even once again with less than five minutes to go in regulation. The Boston native earned his ninth tally of the season at 15:09 of the third from Bindulis and forward Tim Harrison.
Then 2:30 later, Whitney re-directed a pass by defender Jaynen Rissling after a face-off win past Milosz to give South Carolina a 5-4 advantage and complete the hat trick.
But the Railers forced overtime with a strike from Cody Payne in the final minute of the game at 19:32.
Worcester outshot SC 7-5 in overtime, which lasted for 5:30 before Lees put the Stingrays in front for good on a wrist shot from the slot with assists by Novak and Bindulis.
The Railers led in shots on goal for the game by a 46-36 margin. Goaltender Logan Thompson secured his 21st victory of the season for South Carolina after stopping 41 shots, while Milosz turned aside 30 chances for Worcester. The Railers finished 1-for-4 on the power play, while the Stingrays ended at 0-for-2 on the man-advantage.
The Stingrays battle the Atlanta Gladiators on Wednesday morning at 10:30 a.m. for Education Day at the North Charleston Coliseum.
Tickets for all of South Carolina’s upcoming 2019-20 home contests are on sale now via Ticketmaster.