On the second part of a back-to-back series, neither team could find their footing offensively for an extended period of time, as the two netminders stole the show through the first half of regulation. Despite firing a ton of rubber at the net to start the game, it wasn’t until the final five minutes of the second that the Checkers broke the ice, with Connor Brickley redirected wrister from Jake Chelios past Heat goalie David Rittich. Charlotte wasn’t done there, though, as Trevor Carrick ripped a one-time blast from point on the man advantage that plowed through traffic and in to give the home squad a two goal advantage through 40 minutes of play.
The Heat turned up the pressure in the final frame as they searched for a spark, but the Checkers smothered their comeback hopes, and an empty-net tally from Lucas Wallmark sealed the 3-0 win for Charlotte, their third straight.
Leighton didn’t see a huge amount of pucks on the night, as the Heat were only able to register 23 shots, but he turned all of them aside to pick up his AHL-best 49th career shutout.
“The guy is just the man,” said Carrick. “He’s just an experienced goalie who cares a lot about the game and is the most focused guy I’ve ever seen. He’s just a phenomenal goalie and he’s huge for our team in this push for the playoffs.”
In addition to extending his shutout lead, Leighton moved into a tie for fifth all-time in AHL wins tonight, further solidifying his position as a legend in the league.
“Just playing simple,” said Leighton of his long stretch of success. “A lot of it is just making the easy saves, and a couple of nights you make all the easy saves and a couple of big saves and you have a chance to get a shutout. Sometimes the bounces don’t go your way and the puck just finds a way to go in, but when it doesn’t, sometimes it’s just good luck your way like when they hit the post two times in a row tonight. Sometimes you’ve got to be good to be lucky.”
While it took a bit of time for them to capitalize, the Checkers had no shortage of offensive pressure on Stockton tonight, dominating long stretches of play and forcing Rittich to keep his team in it.
“It was nice to see that we could generate the amount of scoring chances that we did because Stockton was really keying in on defending our rush,” said Samuelsson. “I thought we did a hell of a job of getting through that as the game went along.”
Once that persistence paid off with Brickley’s goal, things started rolling for the Checkers’ offense.
“We just said to keep on going and eventually they would,” said Carrick. “That second period got us going and we were able to hold it in the third.”
Charlotte’s second goal came on the power-play, a welcome break from what has been a tough season for the unit.
“They were moving the puck around and they got a little tired and we kept shooting,” said Samuelsson. “When we’re not having success on the power play, our players are a little tentative of shooting. We’re trying to encourage more shots, more loose pucks and more rebounds.”
Carrick’s cannon from the point was reminiscent of the prowess he has had in those situations over the last few years and, hopefully, a sign of things to come.
“I think our power play has been a little frustrating this year and that we’re last in the league right now,” said Carrick. “Today we had a lot of opportunities and in the one we got the goal we just started shooting more. When you’re doing that, things open up and we were able to put one by him.
“With the way the season’s been going with me struggling to put the puck in the back of the net, every goal raises your confidence. So that’s a start tonight.”
“It’s going to help for sure,” said Samuelsson. “He’s getting shots through, and he had been struggling with that a little bit. I think this will help his confidence shooting.”
With a weekend sweep under their belts and some key points in the standings, the Checkers will have a week to regroup before heading back on the road for a tough three-in-three through the Central Division.