Chris Terry scored three points (2g, 1a) to lead the Checkers back from a 4-1 first-intermission deficit and Brett Sutter got the winner in overtime to defeat the Abbotsford Heat by a 5-4 score at Raleigh’s PNC Arena on Sunday. Justin Shugg and Aaron Palushaj also scored and Mike Murphy made 25 saves as Charlotte won for the first time since Feb. 1, ending its 0-4-1 skid.
Compared to where the team would have been after what could have easily been another blowout loss to the Heat, who defeated them 5-1 in the first of the two-game set at the home of the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday, the Checkers will head back to Charlotte with an abundance of positive energy.
“I think everyone gets to take a breath of fresh air now,” said Sutter. “This game is so much about confidence and when you’re on a bit of a skid it weighs on you mentally. Tonight we found a way.”
“It’s been a focus the last two days with meeting before the games, meeting after the games and meeting after the first period (today), just for more desperation,” said coach Jeff Daniels.
Daniels, who said he was not particularly upset with the team’s play in a first period that saw the Heat take advantage of every opportunity, said that he let his players take control of the locker room discussion at the intermission. According to Terry, several players spoke but words from Shugg, who has won two Memorial Cups in junior hockey and an ECHL Kelly Cup with the Florida Everblades, rang loudest.
“When he talks about that kind of stuff, he’s got experience and it’s hard not to listen,” said Terry, who had tied his career high by going 13 games without a goal entering Sunday’s game. “He said we weren’t a team in the last stretch and we were playing like a bunch of individuals. I think everyone knew that deep down but everyone needed a reality check to see it.”
A newly-created line featuring Shugg, who was playing his 150th professional game, Terry and Brody Sutter started the turning of the tide with Terry finishing his own rebound just shy of the midway point of the second period. On the next shift, he left a drop pass for Shugg as the two crossed paths in the slot, with Shugg sniping a shot into the top corner over goalie Joni Ortio’s glove.
“Chris was snake-bit for a little bit and once he scored that first one things got a little lighter for him and he was pretty good out there,” said Daniels. “When he scores he scores in bunches usually, so hopefully this is the start of something good coming up.”
On the first power play of the game for either team early in the third period, Terry tied it on a blast from the left point and later had a chance at his first career hat trick on a penalty shot awarded when Heat defenseman Derek Smith cleared a loose puck out of the crease with his glove. What set up as a storybook way to take the lead didn’t occur when Terry, who leads both the Hurricanes and Checkers in shootout goals this season, fumbled the puck and allowed Ortio to make the save.
After Brody Sutter’s rebound bid at the buzzer to end regulation play didn’t go, Terry, who fired nine shots on goal, had another chance to win the game in overtime, though Ortio made a glove save on a two-on-one with Shugg. On the next shift, after Abbotsford had rang a shot off the goalpost, Brett Sutter and Zach Boychuk couldn’t connect on another odd-man rush, though Sutter was able to emerge from the aftermath behind the net by bringing the puck out front and sending a low backhand through Ortio’s legs.
“Our line battled hard all night and didn’t get much,” said Sutter, whose new unit featured Philippe Cornet rather than Terry on the left side. “We didn’t get many offensive chances, so to score one when it mattered was huge for us.”
With the win, the Checkers avoided a clean sweep at the hands of the Heat, who had won all three previous meetings this month. That they did so in dramatic fashion was reminiscent of how they busted out of their other stretch of bad results this season, a franchise-record, seven-game losing streak in November.
“This was exciting, especially against a team like that because they’re a real good team and don’t give you much and are real tight defensively,” said Sutter. “Guys battled, they played hard all night and I think that was the most positive our team has been in the locker room with having guys’ backs and picking guys up when they’re down.”
As the Western Conference’s 13th seed with just 27 games to play, they’ll need that to continue as they conclude a five-game “home” stand against the Norfolk Admirals on Tuesday and, perhaps more challengingly, embark on a franchise-record, 10-game road swing later in the week.
With that ahead of them and the need to accumulate points growing greater by the day, another big loss in this game would have been awfully tough to swallow – something the team appeared to realize during this particular game.
“This was a wake-up call,” said Terry, who also had two goals in the Checkers’ last three-goal comeback in Grand Rapids on Oct. 26, 2012. “There were too many games and too many periods that we let go unnoticed and embarrassed.”