The Grand Rapids Griffins goaltender put forth an outstanding 35-save effort to hand Charlotte a 2-1 defeat at Time Warner Cable Arena and keep it from acquiring precious points in the third-to-last game of its regular season. Philippe Cornet scored the Checkers’ only goal in their Time Warner Cable Arena finale, with John Muse making 25 saves for the home team.
With the loss, the Checkers drop from ninth to 10th in the Western Conference and could potentially finish the day as low as 11th based on results from around the league. They remain a single point out of eighth place, though all of their key rivals – a group that includes Rochester, Oklahoma City, Rockford and Utica, have at least one game in hand that they will play while the Checkers wait to conclude their slate with a pair of road games on Friday and Saturday.
“The whole game we did everything we could but put the puck in the net,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “It’s disappointing because I thought the effort was there and the guys gave everything they had.”
“I don’t think there was any quit in our game,” said captain Brett Sutter. “We were obviously desperate and knew what the stakes of the game were. We gave it our all, but unfortunately the goalie stood on his head and we couldn’t put one in.”
McCollum, who did not play in the Checkers’ 3-0 victory over the Griffins on Thursday, made several key saves in the first period to keep his team in the game after Cornet opened the scoring by getting in behind the defense, patiently walking around McCollum as he sprawled to get over and firing home. By keeping the likes of Chris Terry, Brody Sutter and Justin Shugg off the board with a string of point-blank saves, he allowed the Griffins to tie it on a power-play goal by Cory Emmerton on the Checkers’ third minor penalty of the period with 39 seconds left.
Though McCollum made a save in a near-repeat of Cornet’s scoring play and Shugg hit the post early, the Griffins held the edge for most of a second period that saw them score the eventual winner through Trevor Parks, who picked up a loose puck that resulted from a shot from the point hitting something in traffic and fired it in off the goal post.
It wasn’t until the third that McCollum, who finished the game ranked third in the AHL with a 2.28 goals-against average, really stole the show, keeping the Checkers at bay as they out-shot his team by a 14-5 margin. The period-long flurry culminated in a 6-on-5 sequence with Muse pulled for the extra attacker and a final 10 seconds at 6-on-4 that produced as many high-quality looks as the Checkers could have hoped for. Thanks to McCollum, none of them reached their intended destination.
“We had a ton of chances and you’ve got to give that guy a lot of credit,” said Daniels. “I thought he was by far the first star out there tonight.”
“It’s just one of those nights where their goalie was standing on his head and it just wasn’t going in for us,” said Checkers forward and AHL goal-scoring leader Zach Boychuk. “We battled as hard as we could right to the end and just weren’t able to get that equalizer.”
That means a lot of watching, waiting and hoping as a result of their inability to take control of their own destiny in games like this, no matter how hard they tried.
“We can’t afford to lose and we did, but on the flip side of that the guys played the right way and the way we wanted them to play,” said Daniels. “I can’t fault the effort because they left it all on the ice and came up one goal short.”
“You’ve got to look at it like we’re still alive and still in it,” said Boychuk. “There are still two games left and obviously we’re going to need a lot of help, but we’ll see what happens in the next couple of days. “Hopefully those games this weekend mean something.”