Late-scoring droughts and untimely penalties foiled South Carolina this weekend as the Gamecocks dropped both halves of a home doubleheader to the Florida Gators.
The Gamecocks started strong in both contests but were outscored by Florida 4-0 in the third period of both games despite outshooting the visitors 16-14. With this weekend's losses, the Gamecocks dropped to 5-7-1 overall and 1-4-1 in the SECHC on the season. South Carolina has now lost four consecutive conference matchups.
South Carolina goaltender Bobby Lombardi and forward Jake Tengi sat out the weekend with injuries, but the Gamecock offense received a key returner in forward Sean Davis, who last played Oct. 15 at Tennessee. Davis wasted no time getting back, scoring just 6:06 into Friday's game with a shot that deflected in front of the net but eluded Florida goaltender Mark Finkelstein to give South Carolina a quick 1-0 lead. The goal was Davis' fifth of the season and fourth in his past three games.
Brian Owen quickly tied it up for Florida but with 8:11 to go in the period, Alec Martone tipped in Jim Hatton's rebound to put the Gamecocks ahead 2-1 going into the first intermission.
Both teams traded goals in the first four minutes of the second, but Florida defenseman Andrew Kuczynski beat Jared Ward high to the glove side with a long wrist shot through traffic to tie it up again just under a minute later. The goal was Kuczynski's first on the year and only his 10th in three seasons with the Gators.
After heading into the third period still tied at three, Florida went ahead for good with 12:44 to play when forward Brendan Nicholson took a pass from Garrett Quillen, calmly navigated the South Carolina defense and threw the puck between Ward's skates for the Gators' first lead of the night. Zane Katz added his sixth goal of the season three and a half minutes later to cap a 5-3 Florida win.
Also making his first appearance since Oct. 15, Ward finished Friday's contest with 29 saves on 34 shots.
The Gamecocks got off to another quick start Sunday morning. Just over four minutes into the game Martone forced a turnover at the Florida blue line, skated in on the Gator net and threw a high-wrist shot that Finkelstein got a piece of but couldn't keep from trickling over the goal line to give South Carolina another quick 1-0 lead. Ian Schneider kept the momentum going three minutes later, burying a pass from Geoff Kostrzebski for his fifth power play goal of the season and South Carolina's first multi-goal lead of the weekend.
South Carolina had a chance to go up three when Gators forward Bryan Miller took a minor for tripping three minutes into the second period. The Gamecocks did not capitalize on the ensuing 5-on-4, but Florida did when forward Daniel Clifford blocked a shot and skated the puck the length of the ice before firing a wrist shot past Ward to make it 2-1. Just before the halfway mark of the second, Jim Hatton and Brian Sohr took minor penalties 76 seconds apart to give Florida an abbreviated 5-on-3 advantage. Katz wasted no time, taking just sixteen seconds to fire home a feed from Christian Coratti to tie the game with 11:41 remaining in the second.
It was all Florida from there as South Carolina took three consecutive penalties through the beginning of the third period. With 10:09 left and Martone serving a minor for charging, Quillen finally batted home a close rebound to put Florida ahead 3-2.
South Carolina pressured the Gators zone for a late goal but couldn't find the net as Finkelstein turned aside all eight Gamecock shots in the third to hold on for the win. The St. Louis native finished with 30 saves on 32 shots Sunday to improve his record to 5-2-0 on the season. Florida improved to 6-3-1 and 4-1-1 within the SECHC.
Clifford scored on the empty Gamecock net with four seconds remaining to ice the series sweep for Florida, 4-2. Despite being outshot 32-15 in the game and 13-4 in the first period Sunday, the Gators scored three goals on their final 11 shots.
The Gamecocks are back in action against Clemson Friday night at The Pavilion in Taylors. South Carolina previously defeated the Tigers 5-1 in Irmo on Sept. 22. Puck drop is scheduled for 9:45 p.m.