Aaron Palushaj scored the winning goal midway through the third period as the Checkers concluded a three-in-three weekend with a 4-3 win over the San Antonio Rampage. Brett Sutter had two goals and nine of the Checkers’ 28 shots, with Jared Staal scoring his first goal of the season as Charlotte went four points clear of San Antonio in the Western Conference playoff race.
John Muse made 34 saves, one fewer than he made in a 5-4 shootout victory over the Rampage on Friday. Having fallen behind in a 3-0 loss in Texas Saturday night that broke their four-game win streak, the second victory over San Antonio keeps the Checkers in 10th place and back to within five points of the postseason cutoff line with 17 games to play.
When Sutter scored the only goal of the second period, a power-play goal set up by Palushaj, the Checkers led for nearly 20 minutes until Wade Megan was finally able to capitalize on a fast start to the third period, one that saw the Rampage, who did not play the night before, take the first seven shots. The goal came on a late-developing, three-on-one rush as coverage broke down in the defensive zone, with Megan knocking home his own rebound.
Just four minutes later, Palushaj restored the lead by making a move to go in alone on Clemmensen, who made the initial save only for the high-bouncing rebound to fall right into the scorer’s path as he circled the net.
Palushaj’s goal was his 20th of the season, making him the third Checkers skater to hit that mark (Zach Boychuk and Chris Terry). It was also his sixth game-winner, extending his team lead and putting him into a four-way tie for most in the AHL.
One of three Checkers skaters on pace to break the team’s single-season point record of 65 set by Boychuk in 2010-11 (Boychuk and Terry are the others), Palushaj now has eight points (2g, 6a) in his last five games.
Sutter, who was playing his 450th AHL game, topped his regular-season career high of seven shots set twice previously, including once this season. He had nine in a playoff game with Abbotsford on April 21, 2010. This marked his first multi-goal game since April 16 of last season.
After dropping the initial meeting against the Rampage on Nov. 2, the Checkers have won each of the last four. There are still three head-to-head games remaining, including a two-game set in Charlotte later this month.
With the win, Charlotte improved to 5-3-1 on its 10-game road swing that marks the longest in team history. That segment has one game left – a Wednesday game against Texas – before the Checkers return home to play their first game at Time Warner Cable Arena in nearly an entire month on Saturday.