Charlotte scored three times in the game’s first eight minutes and never looked back on their way to a convincing 6-1 win over the Oklahoma City Barons on Wednesday. The victory gave the Checkers a 2-1 lead in their best-of-five playoff series and a chance to move on to the next round when they host Game 4 at Time Warner Cable Arena on Friday.
Chris Terry scored two power-play goals just 88 seconds apart, one on a five-on-three and another at the following five-on-four, to lead the early onslaught. Matt Marquardt, Tim Wallace, Bobby Raymond and Justin Shugg also scored for the Checkers, who got a strong 37-save performance from rookie goaltender Rob Madore.
“We got a few early goals, and I thought we kept that momentum going all game,” said coach Jeff Daniels.
“This time we kept pressing,” said Zach Boychuk, whose three assists gave him five points (2g, 3a) in three playoff games.
Marquardt opened the scoring just after two and a half minutes had passed, sending a low shot towards goal that beat goaltender Yann Danis. When the Barons’ Jonathan Cheechoo and Colten Teubert took penalties 1:35 apart, Terry made quick work of the five-on-three to score his first of the series and then added another, both with primary assists from Boychuk.
“It had been a while since I put one in the back of the net,” said Terry, who had eight assists in his last six games but no goals since April 12.
The Barons’ biggest threat at an unlikely comeback came when Toni Rajala scored on a two-man advantage with 51 seconds left in the first period – one of several late-period goals that his team has picked up in this series.
Rather than let that be a turning point, the Checkers stayed the course, with Wallace, playing his first game of the series after returning from the NHL, finishing the latest in a handful of golden scoring opportunities midway through the second when Boychuk evaded a potentially crushing hit in his own zone and sent rookie defenseman Danny Biega in for a two-on-one break that Wallace finished.
“It was tough to give up that goal, but we bounced back,” said Boychuk of Rajala’s strike. “We had a good second and third, and that’s all you need.”
There were a staggering four two-man advantages during the game, two for each team. Three of those produced goals, with Raymond, a defenseman who joined the team from the ECHL level mid-season, scoring his first of the series with six minutes remaining in the third period. That goal made it 5-1, with Shugg adding the final tally as he split the defense at the blue line and sent a low shot on goal that Danis, who actually made key saves that could have prevented his team’s start from being even more costly, would normally stop.
The abundance of five-on-three power plays was a rarity for any hockey game, let alone one played in the postseason.
“After two you’re thinking ‘Holy cow, and then they got one more and we got one more,’” said Daniels. “(The officials) were consistent in what they called.”
The five-on-three that did not produce a goal – an Oklahoma City opportunity with Charlotte’s Biega and Brett Bellemore in the box near the end of the second period – could very well have been the sequence that ended the Barons’ hopes for a miracle, with Brett Sutter, Justin Krueger and Raymond doing well to clog up passing lanes.
Along with the power play that finished 3-for-7 for the game and improved to 5-for-15 on the series, the special teams battle clearly went Charlotte’s way.
“We got some timely goals on the power play early, and our penalty kill did a good job throughout the game,” said Daniels.
As the old cliché goes, the team’s goaltender was its best penalty killer. Madore, who had never played at the AHL level until March 21, did his part to preserve the lead and played a larger role in his team’s victory than one might expect given the lopsided score.
“I thought that he looked a lot more relaxed,” said Daniels, comparing the rookie’s performance to those in Games 1 and 2. “He was like a lot of guys that were playing their first playoff games, but tonight he looked like himself.”
“I don’t think I did anything differently,” said Madore. “The guys are playing great hockey right now and I'm just happy to contribute."
While happy to do just that, particularly in five-goal fashion, comments from Daniels and players were about not getting too far ahead of themselves ahead of Friday’s game, which they hope to use to avoid the winner-take-all scenario of a potential Game 5 on Saturday.
“We’ll take an hour or the rest of tonight to enjoy this and then get over it tomorrow,” said Madore.
“Come Friday night at seven, the clock going to be at 0-0,” said Daniels. “We have to come out and play a full 60 like we came close to doing tonight. It’s a chance to be great again.”
Any other concerns will be of the lighter variety, especially as it pertains to the team’s goal scoring.
“We’ve just got to save some for next game,” said Terry.