The Orlando Solar Bears began the ECHL playoffs Wednesday night playing the same team they played in last year's opening series — the South Carolina Stingrays.
So far, that's the only thing remotely similar to last year's result, a four-game sweep of the Stringrays.
South Carolina goalie Parker Milner totally stymied the Solar Bears in Game 1 Wednesday, stopping all 26 shots he faced, as the visitors put Orlando in an early hole in the South Division semifinals with a 2-0 shutout win.
The teams play Game 2 tonight (Friday) at the Amway Center. Puck drops at 7.
The Solar Bears had a hand in being their own worst enemy Wednesday, going 0-for-8 on the power play to the dismay of Coach Drake Berehowsky.
"We work on it, we have different cues, and we didn't execute," he said. "Only getting 26 shots won't do it, none of them in the house, that won't win playoff games. We came out really hard, but there's no excuse this time of year not to play for 60 minutes."
After a scoreless first period, South Carolina, who finished in third place in the Southeast Division during the regular season, scored in transition after another failed Orlando possession, when Mason Mitchell ripped a wrist shot past Solar Bears goalie Connor Ingram to the low corner of the net with six minutes left in the second period.
From there, Orlando got more chances to tie it, including a prime opportunity with 1:48 left in the game when the Stingrays took a boarding penalty. Berehowsky pulled Ingram for an extra attacker to create a 6-on-4 power play opportunity but the worst-case scenario happened: the Solar Bears turned the puck over at the blue line, Josh Gratton picked it up and buried it for an empty-net goal and a 2-0 advantage.
"Well I don't think we played as well as we could have," Berehowsky said. "We passed up a lot of shots, we didn't execute our plays. I know our guys have more to give."
Defenseman and team captain Mike Monfredo said a level of frustration started to set in after those power plays failed to produce any goals.
"We got away from the game plan," he said. "We got some good chances early but we got away from it and it showed in the result. They got momentum stopping us every time on the power play. It was a tough fought game, but they got the better of us. It's going to be a long series, it's time to have a short memory."
The teams get a couple of days off; Games 3 and 4 are set for Wednesday and Friday in North Charleston. Broadcasts are on the Mixlr live audio network, which can be accessed at the team's website (orlandosolarbearshockey.com).
Forward Mitch Hults said the players were already focused for an answer Friday in locker room after Wednesday's shutout loss.
"It was frustrating for sure, but all we can do is let this game go and be ready for the next one, he said. "It's a matter of 'want', and we want to get that next game and even it up and then take the lead. I think Friday will be different, especially the energy level."
Berehowsky said even though last year's matchup with the Stingrays was not close, it was an anomaly.
"We know it'll be a tight series. We really have to earn these wins," he said.