WHEELING - When push came to shove, and it did, the South Carolina Stingrays had no answer for the Wheeling Nailers' second line on Saturday night, or in the entire series for that matter.
Max MacKay scored a pair of goals and assisted on another, Sahir Gill had a goal and assist and Christiaan Minella added a helper as the Nailers scored a 4-2 victory at WesBanco Arena to sweep the Stingrays out of the playoffs in their Best-of-7 Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
Wheeling will play the winner of the Greenville-Kalamazoo series that is tied 2-2, beginning next weekend. If Greenville prevails, Games 1 and 2 will be next Saturday and Sunday at WesBanco Arena. If Kalamazoo survives, Games 1 and 2 are next Friday and Saturday on the road.
WHEELING NAILERS’ forward Max MacKay shoots the puck during Friday’s game against South Carolina at WesBanco Arena. The Nailers closed out the series with a 4-2 victory and advance to the conference semifinals.
''We have a great line. It's a little bit of everything ... a little bit of physicality and a little bit of skill,'' said Minella, who had three points (2g-1a) in the series to help Wheeling to the 50th playoff victory in franchise history, and the first four-game sweep. ''We knew that (the Stingrays) were a little bit of a softer 'D' corp and we knew if we hit them early we would be successful.
''They were kind of looking over their shoulder in Games 3 and 4 wondering where the first guy was. If we were moving and getting on the puck, we were usually coming up with it.''
On the brink of elimination, South Carolina came out flying but was rebuked by Gill's first career playoff goal just 2:46 in. A big hit and subsequent pass from Minella found Gill alone in the slot and he beat South Carolina goaltender Allen York through the pads.
''They gave their push in the first period and we didn't back down,'' Gill said. ''You take the life out of them in this game if you're able to pounce on them.
''I was fortunate that one was able to go in.''
That's the way it remained until late in the second period when that line struck again, and this time it was MacKay, who finished as the leading scorer in the series with six points (2g-4a), including at least one in every game. Stationed to the right of York, MacKay's pass tipped of a Stingrays stick and into the air, somehow landing in the back of the net.
''I don't even know how that one went in ... I think it went off his head,'' MacKay said. ''It's hard to win four games against any team, but obviously this opens some eyes.''
With the way Nailers goaltender Mike Condon has been playing, that was enough. Condon entered the game with a 0.92 goals-against average and a save percentage of .967, and proceeded to turn away 33 of 35 shots.
''I have been on some great teams, but this team is very confident and very poised, which is great for a goalie,'' he said. ''It's pretty daunting looking at 12 games you have to win. That was a good team right there, but it's just one at a time.
''Just be in the moment, be present and everything will take care of itself.''
The Nailers took most of the suspense out of it when MacKay tallied his second. York misplayed the puck behind his net 2:37 into the third and MacKay gathered it, went to the net and stuffed it in past a sliding South Carolina defender.
The Stingrays received a goal from Jordan Owens and Jack Downing remarkably scored from center ice, but Tom Kuhnhackl ended it with an empty-net goal with six seconds remaining, his second of the playoffs.
''They had 90-some points and were in first place all year or second place. Any time you get a chance to put a team out, you put a team out,'' Coach Clark Donatelli said. ''The guys worked hard all year and I am glad it paid off.
''We had a good game plan and the guys executed it.
''I don't know about easily, but it was a win.''