Less than a week after the Checkers defeated the defending Calder Cup champions by a 5-0 score on Friday, the Griffins bounced back with a 5-2 victory, dealing the Checkers their first regulation loss away from home this season. Charlotte, now 4-1-1 away from Time Warner Cable Arena, got goals from Aaron Palushaj and Victor Rask, while goalie Rick DiPietro stopped 25 of 29 shots in his team debut.
Charlotte now will now make another return visit, this time to Rockford, the site of a 2-1 shootout loss on Saturday, to complete a back-to-back set.
DiPietro, a 32-year-old NHL veteran who signed a professional tryout signing with the Checkers over the weekend, looked poised in net despite this being his first game at any level this season. The first three goals that beat him would have required stellar saves, including the opener from Gustav Nyquist, one of the league’s most skilled players, who beat him on a one-timer from the slot to tie the game at 1-1 in the first period.
A fourth goal was the most stoppable of the bunch, with Tomas Jurco flying down the left wing and snapping a quick shot that DiPietro partially blocked before seeing the puck trickle over the line behind him. Nyquist’s second of the night came into the empty net as the Checkers had opted for the extra attacker when Rask gave his team a glimmer of hope by scoring his second of this season with 3:39 remaining.
The goals by Sproul and Jurco were both on the power play as the Griffins scored on two of their three chances, ending Charlotte’s streak of 15 consecutive penalties killed over parts of its last four games.
The Checkers scored once on the power play, making it five straight games with a power-play goal, with Rask’s tally coming just seven seconds after a man advantage for the visiting team had expired. That goal, an impressive wrist shot from just inside the face-off dot to Mrazek’s left, was Rask’s second in his last four games.
Rask, the Carolina Hurricanes’ second-round pick in 2011 who has centered the Checkers’ top line all season, now has six points in eight games to rank fifth on the team.
Palushaj’s goal, his third of the season and second in as many games, put the Checkers up 1-0 at the tail end of a four-minute power play that began after Griffins captain Jeff Hoggan drew blood with a high stick against Charlotte rookie defenseman Danny Biega midway through the first period. The chance developed when Mrazek made a save on a hard Chris Terry shot from just inside the blue line, with Zach Boychuk getting a piece of the rebound before Palushaj tapped it into the empty net.
With the assist, Terry extended his point streak to eight games (5g, 4a), tying his career high set twice during the 2011-12 season. The run, which has resulted in him claiming his usual place atop the team scoring chart, includes at least one point in every Checkers game this season. Palushaj, his linemate at even strength, extended his own point streak to three games (2g, 2a).
After leaving the game following Hoggan’s high stick, Biega would return wearing a full cage and earned the lone assist on Rask’s goal.
The result marked just the third time that the Griffins have defeated Charlotte in 10 all-time meetings since the Checkers moved to the Western Conference two seasons ago.