Right from the outset, it looked as though the Checkers were in for a long night. They had no idea.
After falling behind 2-0 in the first three minutes of the game and trailing 4-1 early in the second, the Checkers scored five unanswered goals to cap a wild come-from-behind victory in Grand Rapids on Friday. They scored three of those goals in less than two minutes on an extended power play in the second period, with Chris Terry sealing the 6-4 victory with two goals in the third.
Defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani tied a franchise record with four assists, while fellow blueliner Justin Faulk had a goal and two assists to record his second three-point night in five games this season. Dan Ellis stopped all 15 shots he faced in relief of Justin Peters, who left the game after allowing the Griffins’ fourth goal early in the second.
With the win, the Checkers improve to 4-1-1, continuing the best start in three seasons as an AHL franchise. All of those games have come on the road, with the team’s home opener not scheduled until Nov. 4. They also remained perfect all-time against Grand Rapids, having won all five meetings over the course of the last two seasons.
The Checkers showed some sign of fighting back from a slow start that saw the Griffins’ Tomas Tatar and Louis-Marc Aubry score two minutes apart in the first 3:33 of the game as the result of loose defending in front of Peters, who finished with five saves on nine shots. However, Drayson Bowman’s power-play goal, his fifth in his last four games that put him into a tie for the AHL lead, was quickly answered by a goal from Gustav Nyquist barely a minute later and another goal by Francis Pare to make it 4-1 and chase Peters with just over a minute gone in the second period.
Things looked bleak for the Checkers even when Grand Rapids forward Trevor Parkes took a five-minute major penalty for boarding Gragnani with around seven minutes gone in the second. It wasn’t until a Chad Billens penalty gave the Checkers their second extended five-on-three power play of the game, the first of which came up empty in the first period, that the tide began to turn in a big way.
First, Jerome Samson made quick work of the two-man advantage, sending a quick, low shot from the left circle through goalie Tom McCollum. Then, 27 seconds later, Faulk scored his first of the season on a rifle from the right side during the more conventional five-on-four. Finally, with the major to Parkes still in effect, forward Zach Boychuk roofed one past McCollum to tie the game.
Though things slowed down from that frenetic pace, the Checkers’ excellent night on special teams would continue. Midway through the third period, Terry scored the eventual winning goal during a Griffins power play, sending a shot from the left circle past McCollum to give his team its first lead of the game. The goal was the first shorthanded marker by the Checkers this season.
With 1:03 left on the clock and McCollum pulled for the extra attacker, Terry recorded his second goal by stripping the puck from Nyquist in the neutral zone and immediately sending into the empty net to seal the victory.
When everything was said and done, the Checkers had tied numerous team records, including biggest comeback (three goals), most power-play goals in a single game (four) and most assists by one player in a single game (four).
The Checkers now head to Peoria for back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday that will conclude their second three-in-three set in as many weekends. They then head to Milwaukee on Wednesday to conclude their franchise-record-tying, nine-game road swing.
Grand Rapids (1-3-1 overall) has led 2-0 in all three of its regulation losses … Bowman’s four-game goals streak ties his personal record and is one short of the team record set by Zac Dalpe in November of 2010 … Gragnani is the third Checker to record four assists in a single game, joining Boychuk and Dalpe, both of whom accomplished the feat during the 2010-11 season … Defensemen Gragnani and Faulk are now tied for the team scoring lead with eight points apiece … Rookie center Victor Rask earned the primary assist on Faulk’s goal, giving him four points during a three-game point streak (1g, 3a) … The last time the Checkers erased a three-goal deficit was on May 6, 2011, in Game 6 of their second-round playoff series with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton … Forwards Sean Dolan, Justin Soryal and Jared Staal and defenseman Justin Krueger were healthy scratches for Charlotte.
1. Marc-Andre Gragnani
2. Justin Faulk
3. Gustav Nyquist (Grand Rapids)