Zach Boychuk, Nicolas Blanchard and Chris Terry scored and John Muse had a career high 43 saves as the Checkers won for the sixth time in seven games, this time by a 3-1 score against the Texas Stars. The win, coupled with a Milwaukee loss, puts Charlotte just three points out of a playoff spot with 16 games to play.
The victory against Texas, the Western Conference’s top team that entered this game with a seven game point streak (6-0-1) and a 22-6-1 record at home, improved the Checkers’ record to 6-3-1 on their now-completed, 10-game road swing that marked the longest in franchise history. Charlotte had previously lost three consecutive games in Texas, all in the last three weeks.
It took the Checkers, who suffered a 3-0 shutout at the hands of the Stars just four days earlier, a total of 85:39 to score on standout goaltender Jack Campbell, who entered the game with a perfect 7-0-0 record. Entering the second period with a 1-0 deficit thanks to an opening goal by Texas forward Matej Stransky and a near-miss when Brett Sutter hit the post on a shorthanded two-on-one with Terry, they then got two in less than two minutes as Boychuk fought off a few stick checks, cut to the middle and chipped a quick shot high glove and Blanchard followed up by firing home a loose puck in the crease.
Boychuk’s 28th goal of the season, which extended his career high set earlier on the road swing, gives him the third-highest, single-season total in the Checkers’ AHL history. He ranks fourth in the league and is on pace to break Terry’s record of 34 set in the 2010-11 season. Meanwhile, Blanchard scored for the first time since Jan. 3, having spent nearly one full month on the sidelines due to injury soon after.
While those goals gave the Checkers all the momentum for the remainder of the period, they were on their heels for much of the third as the AHL’s best offensive team, though it was without the services of league points leader Travis Morin and league goals leader Colton Sceviour on this particular night, pushed hard for the tying goal.
That goal nearly came on several occasions as the Stars out-shot the Checkers 15-5 in the third period, including a hit post that sparked a video review and a missed net on a rebound opportunity with two minutes to play. In every other instance, Muse was able to make the tough saves to improve to 3-0-0 since returning from injury last Friday. His save total beat his previous career high, a 42-save effort in his second-ever game with the Checkers on Jan. 4, 2012, by one.
The Checkers weren’t able to breathe easily until there was just 1:13 remaining on the clock, when Terry put home an empty-net goal.
Charlotte, which had killed just five of its last 10 penalties entering the game, nullified all four chances for a Texas team that still boasts the league’s best power play at 27.3 percent. The Checkers, the league’s second-best team on the power-play, went 0-for-2.