Despite leading 3-1 early in the second period, Charlotte allowed four unanswered goals to their West Division rival, which improved to 21-9-5 on the season, to lose 5-3 at Time Warner Cable Arena on Thursday night. Philippe Cornet, Brendan Woods and Chris Terry scored goals and John Muse made 33 saves in the first of back-to-back games that will see the teams play a rematch on Friday.
The comeback win was the second in three days for Texas, which came back from 5-1 down to defeat Oklahoma City on Tuesday. AHL points leader Travis Morin had two goals and the league’s top-rated power play went 2-for-2, making the vaunted visitors every bit as advertised.
The fact that the Checkers held the advantage for most of the game – Texas did not take its first lead until it scored twice in 60 seconds with around eight minutes remaining in regulation – made the loss all the more difficult to swallow.
“It’s unacceptable,” said Terry, who scored for the second straight game. “We’re in the second half of the season now and had a lead against a top team in our conference. We needed these two points. To give up two goals in a minute or a minute and a half just can’t happen.
“We played too soft in the third. We’re not the Pittsburgh Penguins and don’t have all the skill in the world. We need to play hard-nosed, gritty, bang bodies and make simple plays.”
Giving up goals in quick succession, something that wasn’t entirely shocking given the way Texas had pinned the Checkers in their zone to start the third period, forcing several giveaways that Muse had recovered for up until that point, is something that plagued the team in its last few home games prior to the Christmas break. Back-to-back losses to Toronto on Dec. 20 and 21 made this the team’s third straight loss at home on either side of a 2-1-0 road trip that concluded earlier this week.
“It’s definitely come up more than once,” said center A.J. Jenks, who created the play that led to the game’s opening goal by forcing a turnover and feeding Cornet on the resulting two-on-one. “It’s something you never want to do. The biggest shifts in games are the ones right after goals for or against, and you always want to keep the momentum going if you score and turn it around if they get a goal. It’s an issue that we’re working to solve right now.”
“Hopefully we don’t let this become a trend and it’s a one-and-done thing, because frankly we can’t afford it,” said Terry.
Jenks’ goal was one of a handful of glorious scoring chances for the Checkers in the first period and one of three odd-man rushes that Jenks, who moved up to the team’s third line following Brett Sutter’s recall to Carolina, was personally involved in. However, many of those chances resulted in Checkers players missing the net as the Stars held a 10-1 shots advantage despite getting out-chanced by Charlotte. That perhaps made it fitting that Woods’ goal came on a relatively soft, low shot from the top of the faceoff circle that may have deflected off a defender’s skate before beating Stars netminder Cristopher Nilstorp.
The back-and-forth play continued through the second period before Texas made it more of a one-sided affair in the third.
“That’s not our style,” said Daniels of the run-and-gun play seen at times. “We don’t want to get into it with that team and trade chances back and forth. It’s not the game we want to play against them.”
The Checkers did make good on one key to the game – limiting the Stars’ opportunities on the power play. However, the Stars did not need much opportunity, scoring twice in 57 total seconds of time spent on the man advantage and making it look easy.
“They’re probably over 30 percent now on the power play and in the first time we’ve played them this year you can kind of understand why,” said Daniels. “Both times their second unit scored. We didn’t even see their first unit.”
“We’ve got to be a bit more conscious of staying out of the box and especially not taking offensive-zone penalties, because those are always going to hurt us no matter who we’re playing,” said Jenks. “We’ve got to bear down and pick our spots to be aggressive on their power play.”
The Checkers’ power play, no slouch having entered the game ranked No. 4 in the AHL, made good on its first chance through Terry’s blast from the right circle 46 seconds into the second period but did not convert in three additional opportunities.
With points at a premium as the Checkers enter Friday’s rematch four points out of the Western Conference’s final playoff spot, additional importance will be placed on that game.
“Every game is our biggest game of the year right now,” said Terry. “We’ve got to continue to win and put streaks together. We can’t win one and lose one the rest of the year because we won’t make it.”