South Carolina goalie Shane Owen was spectacular -- stopping 35 shots -- as he led the Stingrays to a 3-1 win Friday night. The Walleye (29-30-5) peppered Owen all night at the Huntington Center and they had plenty of outstanding scoring chances.
But only forward Evan Rankin was able to get one by Owen. Rankin scored with 2:26 left in the game to make it 2-1. But South Carolina scored an empty netter just 13 seconds after Toledo goalie Thomas McCollum was pulled.
The Walleye outshot South Carolina 36-17, including 13-3 in the third period. Owen stopped 10 shots in the first period, 13 in the second, and 12 in the third.
"This was a frustrating game because we had good scoring chances," Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said. "It seemed like the ice was tilted in our favor but we didn't have anything to show for it. Credit a great performance by their goaltender. He stymied us all night."
The Walleye remain last in the ECHL North Division and failed to gain any points. They remain five points behind Cincinnati, which also lost Friday night, for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Just two nights after peppering Wheeling with 37 shots only to lose 3-1, the Walleye could not solve Owen to the dismay of a crowd of 6,011.
With just eight games left in the regular season, crunch time is upon the Walleye.
"We had so many chances," said Rankin, who scored his 18th. "I could have had a four-goal game. But it's just one of those nights. Right now we have to be desperate. The playoffs are breathing down our neck. We need to win these next five games or we'll be playing golf in three weeks."
Up 1-0 entering the third, South Carolina had just three shots in the final stanza and scored on two of them. The Stingrays scored on their first shot of the period, exactly one minute in to grab a 2-0 lead. Pierre-Luc O'Brien scored on a wraparound.
The Walleye line of Andy Bohmbach, Mike Hedden, and Rankin combined for eight shots. Hedden nearly scored with after an individual effort to get free in the second. Bohmbach lifted a backhander just high in the second.
Click here to see a Walleye-South Carolina photo gallery.
"I thought we had a lot of energy and a lot of chances," Hedden said. "We ran into a hot goalie. There's not much else we could do with that kid. The goalie had some horseshoes in the net with him. It's unfortunate it happened this late in the year with how big these games are. But you have to find ways to win. We haven't and it's costing us."
Rankin briefly ended the frustration as he shoved the puck under Owen from the side of the net. Vitucci then pulled McCollum with 1:45 left for the extra attacker. But South Carolina's Matt Scherer got around a Walleye defenseman and scored into an open net.
"We pulled him out and unfortunately Jason Lepine didn't realize he was out because we had offense going and the change happened behind him," Vitucci said.
On the Stingrays' first goal in the second period, McCollum stopped a wraparound chance and another shot from in close. But the Stingrays maintained possession and Chase Langeraap scored.
Toledo had a flurry of quality chances late in the period but Owen stood up to the assault.
Owen then made another diving save with less than a minute left as Toledo carried the play in the middle period. The Walleye did not allow a shot until the 11:01 mark.
Owen robbed Christopher DiDomenico with a glove save with 10:46 left in the second. The Walleye nearly scored again minutes later on a scramble.
Toledo continues a three-game homestand Saturday when it hosts Trenton at 7 p.m. The teams will square off again Sunday at 4 p.m. The Devils (23-34-8) are in last place.
Vitucci said his team must get over the disappointment and focus on Saturday night's game.
"If we have the same amount of chances, you're going to score six or seven goals," he said.
FISH TALES: The St. Francis de Sales state hockey championship team was honored after the second period Friday night. …D Ryan Stokes returned to the lineup for the first time since Jan. 15. The assistant captain missed 28 games due to injury. He was a plus-1. … Lepine leads all ECHL defensemen with 38 points (6 G, 32 A). …It was just the second and final time Toledo played South Carolina. The Stingrays defeated Toledo 3-2 on Nov. 28. …The Walleye are 4-5-1 in their last 10 and 14-16-2 at home. …South Carolina (35-26-5) is in fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
Contact Mark Monroe at: email@example.com or 419-724-6354.