By virtue of a 5-2 victory on Saturday, the Marlies become the first team to ever hold the Checkers pointless for the duration of a season series. Coupled with a 3-1 win at Time Warner Cable Arena on Friday, Toronto went 4-0-0 against the Checkers.
Chris Terry and Brett Sutter scored goals for Charlotte, which started the third period trailing by just one before the Marlies’ Carter Ashton scored to register his third point of the game and Kenny Ryan added an empty-netter. John Muse made 32 saves but saw his six-game win streak that tied a franchise record come to a close.
“The effort was there with three tough games in a row against physical teams,” said Daniels. “I thought we had a lot of energy tonight but just couldn’t find a way to win.”
“For a three-in-three, or a three-in-two-and-a-half, really, I thought we played pretty hard,” said Sutter, who scored for the first time since Nov. 19, ending a 12-game drought. “It was tough mentally and the physical exhaustion kicks in a little bit, but I thought the third might have been our best period.”
After falling behind 3-0 in Friday’s game, the Checkers were able to respond to earlier deficits on Saturday. Greg McKegg, who finished with three points Saturday and seven in the four-game series with Charlotte, had gotten his team on the board at the five-minute mark before a power-play goal by Terry tied it early in the second. Terry’s goal, a blast from the point on the team’s first man-advantage chance, marked the team’s 10th straight game with at least one power-play goal, the longest such streak in team history.
Then, an already-recurring theme of late occurred again when the Marlies struck twice in 21 seconds. The first play was as tough of a break as they come, with Checkers defensemen Matt Corrente and Michal Jordan colliding at the offensive blue line, setting up a breakaway goal by Ashton. The second was a play in which Muse thought he may have covered the puck, but Tyler Biggs swooped in to bang it home.
”It’s something the coaches addressed tonight and something the coaches have been harping on for the last few weeks,” said Sutter. “It’s something we have to get better at.”
What happened after Toronto’s second goal – Sutter scoring eight seconds later on a one-time pass from Zach Boychuk – was more like it.
“We came back and scored the next shift, and that’s the mentality we want after every goal,” said Sutter, who also added an assist and a team-high six shots on goal. “After they make sure, we have to make sure we get back, get in their end and try to change momentum.”
Toronto workhorse Drew MacIntyre could have been a little sharper on each of the first two Checkers goals but was up to the task in the third. Charlotte’s 38 shots on goal marked its second-highest total of the entire season.
“I thought we had more than enough chances to score goals, but MacIntyre was good again,” said Daniels, whose team scored a total of six goals in the four-game set with Toronto. “They play hard, and you’ve got to be ready to work, to hit and take a hit. That’s a real solid team that doesn’t give up a whole lot, and they wear you down.”
Having gone 6-4-0 on their 10-game home stand, the Checkers will now have four days enjoy a holiday break, with many players leaving the rink immediately to disperse to their hometowns. Looking back on that stretch, one that came on the heels of a franchise-record, seven-game losing streak in November, the team still feels as though things are headed in the right direction despite the back-to-back losses to Toronto.
“I think we’re still pretty good,” said Sutter. “A few weeks ago we weren’t having fun and things weren’t clicking for us, but now even the games that we’re losing I don’t think that we’re playing the way we were then. Guys are skating now and we’re getting our chances. We’re working hard and our system has tightened up a lot, so as long as we keep sticking with it and working hard every day, the track we’re on right now is fine.”
The post-holiday schedule starts with a three-game road trip through Milwaukee, Chicago and Rockford – three teams among a group of teams immediately ahead of the Checkers in the standings – starting Friday.
“We’re closer to the pack now than we were 10 games ago,” said Daniels, whose team ended the game four points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. “Now we’ve got to go on the road and keep pushing forward."