After clinching their third consecutive Kelly Cup Playoff appearance, the Greenville Swamp Rabbits returned home for their final regular season home stand for two games. Despite clinching, the race in the South Division standings were far from over; the two games at home would potentially help them raise in the standings and would therefore determine their first-round competitor.
Before the Rabbit’s first of two games on Thursday, April 13, the Jacksonville Icemen, once leading the Rabbits by a point in the South the week before April 13, would go to win four games in a week, giving them the upper hand. As of April 16, playing their final regular season game against Orlando, they would have 93 points, trailing by two of the Stingrays’ 95. Having two extra games to play compared to the Rabbits, gave the Icemen more points to take charge with their lead against Greenville. And it did. By April 16, after the two games, Greenville would have 89 points, four points ahead of the Everblades, making them third in the South and fourth in the East.
Now, it’s time to recap those two games, starting with the first against Savannah. Last week, following the games against Orlando Solar Bears, Forward Brett Kemp would have yet another amazing weekend; the fire of confidence would continue to spread throughout the last regular season game weekend. Starting off for the first period, it would favor the Rabbits. They would get their first power play advantage 2:03 into the period, which would work in their favor. After returning from his AHL call-up to the Ontario Reign, Nikita Pavlychev returned right where he left off scoring 3:22 into the first, Max Martin passed the puck to Pavlychev, who was near Bullion in the crease, and Pavlychev would then push the puck into the near-empty net.
photo credit: @jake.cosmos IG
This wouldn’t be Pavlychevs only goal, however; 7:31 into the 3rd, he would score again after Alex Ierullo would make a beauty of a pass that connected right into Pavlychev’s range to bat it in. It was an acceptable and perfect execution from Ierullo and Pavlychev that would give the team a two-goal lead in the first. But, not to worry, there was still more time to play in the final 13 minutes.
About three minutes later, at 10:16, Greenville would rush down Savannah’s zone, Gatenby and Ierullo would have blockage to make a shot at Bullion, but Freeman was wide open, with no coverage on him at all. So, Ierullo noted this and made yet another beauty of a pass to Freeman. Freeman would practically have a little break away from Bullion and confuse him as he tucked the puck in.
photos credit: @jake.cosmos IG
The goal by Freeman was yet another fine execution of skating and puck-handling abilities seen from different players on this Greenville team. Despite all three goals, Savannah still attempted to throw pucks at David Hrenak when given a chance, but Greenville’s defense and Hrenak would make incredible saves to keep their three-goal lead intact.
Finally, at 13:44, Alex Ierullo would score to make it his 26 goal of the season from a diving pass by Gerads (which would’ve ended up being a penalty on Savannah). The Woodbridge, Ontario native known as “ICE” would again retain his goal lead on the Greenville team and have four points in just one period; no surprise, though, he was an ECHL All-Star for a reason.
After 20 minutes of hockey, the third period would conclude 4-0 Greenville, with Savannah being scoreless and having a four-goal trail to work with, however Savannah held a 15-14 advantage for shots on goal
The Rabbit’s flame of energy and momentum to score and keep the lead intact would carry on for another period. The second period would start pretty strong for Nikita Pavlychev, as he was one goal away from getting his first hat trick of the season and paralleling what Kemp did last week. 2:44 into the 2nd, Greenville would get another PP, so in Savannah’s zone, Ierullo would once again make another pass to Pavlychev, who was standing next to Papiny’s crease in the left-wing corner, and he would slide the puck past Papiny in the blue paint. Not even a goaltending change could stop the big 6’7 man from getting a hatty. Some hats would ring down on the ice to celebrate Pavlychev’s hat trick.
But what that Pavlychev’s last goal of the game? No, not yet! 4:52 into the period, two minutes after the hatty, the 6’7 left-wing would score again to mark his fourth goal in just 25 minutes of hockey. Four goals later, this would tally up to 24 goals of the season, trailing by two goals from tying with Ierullo; four goals in that amount of time would therefore tie him for most goals in Rabbits franchise history.
Savannah tried to score one goal in the second period, as they were being left to suffocate on a 0-6 goal trail. However, every attempt in 40 minutes of hockey would be denied by the LA Kings prospect David Hrenak and the Rabbit’s d-men.
photos credit: @jake.cosmos IG
After 40 minutes of hockey, the score would be at 6-0 Greenville, with shots on goal for Greenville and Savannah 15 and 12. Still, 20 minutes of hockey left to play; anything could happen.
Starting the final 20 minutes of hockey would favor Savannah, as they would put up 15 shots on Hrenaks net. However, they wouldn’t score. First, that would once again belong to Greenville. At 3:15, the Rabbits would be pressuring in the Savannahs zone, and a Ghost Pirates player tried to make a pass to a fellow player at the right-wing corner, getting forechecked and making the puck move slowly. But, Ierullo was standing near Papiny, saw that slow-moving puck come near the Ghost Pirates player at center ice wall, and intercepted it for his possession. After getting that puck, he diced it in the past Papiny, who was unprepared for it. The lousy pass by Savannah would confuse Papiny and give the Rabbits another lead of 7-0.
photo credit: @jake.cosmos IG
Savannah was still trying to get a single point, putting up 15 shots on Hrenak, and one of those would finally go in at 7:58 by d-man Darian Skeoch, who would net his second of the season.
After 60 minutes of hockey, the Rabbits would get right back to the win streak of 7-1 against Savannah, but there was still one last game to play against the South Carolina Stingrays—the best team in the south division and state rivals.
Game Two: Greenville—Stingrays vs. Swamp Rabbits — April 14
by Nate Karsner
Greenville – The Greenville Swamp Rabbits hosted interstate rival the South Carolina Stingrays, for the last game of the regular season for the Swamp Rabbits. About a week prior, both teams played in a tightly contested game, with the Stingrays coming out on top 2-1. Both teams came into the game on win streaks. The Swamp Rabbits won three in a row, while the Stingrays had won their previous seven. Luke Richardson was given the start for the Swamp Rabbits, while Clay Stevenson started for the Stingrays. Brett Kemp (2), Ethan Somoza, Colton Young, Nikita Pavlychev, Ben Freeman, and Brannon McManus scored for the Swamp Rabbits. Lawton Courtnall scored the lone goal for the Stingrays.
South Carolina came into the game knowing they could clinch the south division if they got a win or lost in overtime (if Jacksonville loses). Greenville picked up where they left off the night before, starting fast on offense and putting consistent pressure on the Stingray defense. 7:24 into the first period, the pressure would pay off as Andrew Cherniwchan of South Carolina would pick up the first penalty of the night. They were giving Greenville an opportunity on the powerplay. The penalty kill unit would do a good job helping Clay Stevenson, only allowing three shots on goal during the powerplay. However, going empty-handed on the powerplay would not slow down the Swamp Rabbit offense. At the 14:22 mark in the first period and after 14 shots on goal, the Swamp Rabbits would be rewarded for their effort as Brett Kemp would score the first goal of the night. Josh McKechney assisted them. The first period would end with the Swamp Rabbits putting up 16 shots on goal compared to the Stingrays’ seven.
photo: @jake.cosmos IG
The Swamp Rabbits came out in the second period wanting to ensure that South Carolina would not win the South division on their watch. The Swamp Rabbits would add another two shots on goal within the first minute of the period. For the first half of the period both teams would trade shots and possession, until the 10:15 mark, Ethan Somoza would start the goal-scoring run for the Swamp Rabbits. They were putting the Swamp Rabbits up 2-0.
Photos credit: @jake.cosmos IG
One minute later, Colton Young would add to the Swamp Rabbit total. He was also getting credited for his first professional goal.
Now leading 3-0, the Swamp Rabbits refused to slow down. Nikita Pavlychev, Brett Kemp, and Ben Freeman would score, giving the Swamp Rabbits a 6-0 lead.
After the fifth goal scored on Clay Stevenson, the Stingrays would change goalies going to Tyler Wall. The Swamp Rabbits would end the second period scoring on 21% of their chances up to this point in the game.
The third period would start with the Swamp Rabbits keeping the puck in the offensive zone. But, slowed down the pace of the game, being up 6-0 at this point, Greenville appeared to start playing the clock. 8:32 into the game, Lawton Courtnall grabbed the puck in the neutral zone, beating the Swamp Rabbit defender and Luke Richardson to put the Stingrays on the board.
Kevin O’Neil and Austin Magera would get credit for the assist. With 21 seconds left in the period and the game, Brannon McManus would add one more goal for the Swamp Rabbits. They were making the final 7-1. In his second game with Greenville, Luke Richardson played an excellent game in goal, stopping 33 of 34 attempts.
Now that the final regular season games have been capped off, the SC Stingrays are first in the South with 85 points, JAX Icemen second with 83, Greenville third with 89, and Florida in fourth with 85 points. It is done, the matchups have been set up, and playoff hockey is ready to commence! SC will play the Everblades at home base on Saturday, April 22; Jacksonville will play Greenville on Friday, April 21. Greenville will play on home turf the following Tuesday, April 25. It’s going to be a heated match. In the South, all teams are highly talented and have a lot on the belt to show, and as most know, the playoffs are different than the regular season—anything is possible regardless of the stats.