NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. - Gwinnett Gladiators coach Jeff Pyle got exactly the start he wanted against the South Carolina Stingrays Friday night.
It was the finish that needed a little work.
Travis Morin scored two goals and Davis Parley stopped 26 shots to lead South Carolina past Gwinnett, 5-2, Friday night in Game 1 of their South Division semifinal series before a crowd of 2,422 at the North Charleston Coliseum.
The Stingrays will face the Gladiators in Game 2 in the best-of-five Kelly Cup playoff series tonight at 7 p.m. at the North Charleston Coliseum.
After sweeping Charlotte in the opening round, the Gladiators had nearly a week to rest up and prepare for the Stingrays. The Gladiators came out flying scoring two goals in the first seven minutes of the opening period.
"We actually got off to a perfect start," Pyle said. "We got an early 1-0 lead, got another goal later in the period. We were definitely not rusty with the week off. We had some good opportunities in the first period, but we missed some chances and then we didn't stick to our game plan. We were not committed like we were against Charlotte.
"We got sloppy in our end and had a couple of sloppy turnovers. We knew they were tired, but we didn't play well enough to win."
While the Gladiators were resting all week, the second-seeded Stingrays struggled to get out of the first round. The Stingrays beat Augusta 3-1 in a decisive Game 5 Wednesday night and had just one day to prepare for the Gladiators. Despite having just Thursday off, it was the Stingrays who appeared to be the fresher team over the final two periods.
"I thought the first two periods were pretty, but in the third period I thought they just outworked us," Pyle said. "They were the better team tonight."
Jim Jackson gave the Gladiators an early 1-0 lead with a blast from the point just 2:39 into the opening period.
"It was a good shot and they had a good screen in front of me," Parley said. "I didn't see the puck until it was too late."
The Stingrays answered a minute later off a turnover inside the Gladiators zone. Morin got the puck just inside the right faceoff circle and beat Gwinnett goalie Craig Kowalski with a nasty wrist shot.
The Gladiators came right back on Ryan Mahrle's power play goal off a beautiful pass from Tomas Pospisil that gave Gwinnett a 2-1 lead at the 6:21 mark of the opening period.
But again, the Stingrays came right back after another Gladiator turnover. Pierre-Luc O'Brien got the puck on the left side and beat Kowalski with a wrist shot over his blocker to tie the game at 2 with 9:26 left in the first period.
Morin's second goal just before the end of the second period turned out to be the difference in the game.
With time running out in the second period, Morin skated in down the left side, stepped past Gwinnett defenseman Chad Denny and back-handed a shot past Kowalski with just one second left to give the Stingrays a 3-2 lead going into the second intermission.
"That was a huge goal for them," Pyle said. "I knew right then that if we didn't tie the game at 3-3 we were probably done and we didn't get it. We didn't deserve to win. They were the better team tonight."
Chris Chaput redirected a Sean Collins shot from the point to give the Stingrays a 4-2 lead four minutes into the final period.
Marty Guerin got the final goal for the Stingrays with 3:59 left in regulation.
SideBar: Gladiators at Stingrays
When: Today, 7:05 p.m.
Where: North Charleston, S.C.