Royals beat Cincinnati, roar into Kelly Cup Finals

After a 12-year journey which included three previous busted attempts to reach the fourth and/or final round of the ECHL playoffs, the Royals finally got over the hump on Saturday night.

Kirk MacDonald registered the winning goal just past the midway point of regulation and Riley Gill stopped 25 pucks as the Royals posted a 3-1 victory over the Cincinnati Cyclones in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Ian O’Connor and T.J. Syner also added scores while Dustin Stevenson tallied two assists for the top seed in the East, who will face Stockton in the Kelly Cup Finals beginning next Saturday night at Sovereign Center.

The Stockton Thunder should be a familiar name, since the franchise used to be known as the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies — who prowled Boardwalk Hall from 2001 to 2005 before pulling up stakes and settling in California.

Dan Eves provided the lone offense and Michael Houser made 17 saves for the Cyclones, who had won the title in 2008 and 2010.

It was sweet vindication for the visitors, who suffered a grim fate against Cincinnati three years ago.

After finishing second in the East Division and reaching the third round under current head coach Larry Courville, the Royals won the first three in the semifinals before dropping four straight, the deciding Game 7 an agonizing 1-0 loss at U.S. Bank Arena.

Karl Taylor took the Leos to the third round in 2008, but also dropped a terminal road game to Cincinnati, and Derek Clancey’s 2004 squad lost a deciding Game 5 at Florida in the Eastern Finals.

MacDonald gave Reading a 2-0 lead at the 11:29 mark of the middle period with Nikita Kashirsky in the box for high sticking. The reliable winger decided to fake a clearing attempt, then fooled the Cyclone power-play unit by carrying through the Cincinnati zone and hitting the back of the net for his third of these playoffs.

Eves put the Cyclones on the board with just under four minutes left in the second, but Syner’s insurance tally beat Houser with 8:56 played in the third.

Following a scoreless first period, O’Connor put the visitors on the board with 7:08 played in the second, firing past Houser to complete a 2-on-1 break.

Notes: Cincinnati head coach Jarrod Skalde and David Pacan each drew fines for their actions during Friday’s Game 4…Stockton is making its first trip to the Kelly Cup since relocating from the Jersey Shore…The Bullies won the title in 2003 by topping the Columbia Inferno…This will be the first time the Royals and Thunder have met in the playoffs, and Saturday’s Game 1 will be only the fourth meeting overall between the two teams on opposite ends of the United States…The Thunder beat Las Vegas in seven, Alaska in six and Idaho in five to reach the championship round…Reading swept all three from the Thunder in Stockton in December of 2005.