Although it eventually lost in a shootout to halt its win streak at four games, the home team pulled off the biggest comeback in its history to earn a point on Thursday. Down 4-0 with under nine minutes left on the clock, the Checkers scored four times, including Zach Boychuk’s goal with five seconds remaining in regulation, to force overtime.
Charlotte, which lost for the first time in eight meetings with Peoria, now leads the season series with a record of 4-1-0. Tonight’s game is the last Checkers game at Time Warner Cable Arena until Jan. 16 and also the last meeting with Peoria until the teams clash twice during the final week of the regular season on April 16 and 20.
To say the Checkers deserved a point on Thursday would be an understatement, as the team out-shot Peoria 54-29 on the night. After coming up empty on their first 42 shots on Rivermen goalie Mike McKenna, the Checkers then scored four goals on their next seven shots to tie the game.
“Give the guys credit because it would have been easy to pack it in and get ready for tomorrow, but they kept coming,” said coach Jeff Daniels.
“I don’t think anyone would have bet on us coming back,” said Boychuk.
Though the Checkers missed a chance to tie a team record with their fifth win in a row, the point lost in the shootout does extend their point streak to five games (4-0-1). In contrast to Thursday’s game, in which they gave up the first goal just 33 seconds into the first period, the Checkers are hoping to do what they did near the end of last night’s game right from the start.
“There were some positives in the last eight minutes of the third, and now we’ve just got to find a way to bring that for the full 60,” said defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti, who kicked off the comeback by scoring the first two goals less than two minutes apart. “We’ve got to use that energy and that momentum and go from there.”
The power play will be a focus for the Checkers, who had scored in two consecutive games to end their longest drought of the season but were 0-for-6 on Thursday, including a lengthy two-man advantage in the second period.
“Early on they outworked us, they were getting to loose pucks and they were winning those battles,” said Sanguinetti.
The Checkers will likely turn to Justin Peters, who stopped all eight shots he faced upon relieving Dan Ellis after Peoria’s fourth, in goal tonight. Peters has won each of his last three starts, giving up just two total goals during that time. Defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani is questionable after missing Thursday’s game with a lower-body concern.
The Rivermen, who lost to the Checkers four times during a seven-game winless streak earlier in the season, came full circle by beating Charlotte on Thursday. They’re now one of the hottest teams in the AHL, having won each of their last six.
Along with a penalty kill that is perfect in its last 19 opportunities, the difference on Thursday was the play of McKenna, who started the season as the team’s backup but has split the workload evenly with partner Jake Allen over the last several weeks. McKenna’s 50 saves (not to mention four more in the shootout) tied the most made by any AHL goaltender in a single game this season.
The Rivermen were also very opportunistic with the chances they did get, scoring four times on 20 shots against Ellis. That included T.J. Hensick’s first-shift goal, a second-period, power-play tally by Mark Cundari and two goals by Chris Bruton and Andrew Murray in the first three minutes of the third period that chased Ellis from the game.
Hensick, a perennial AHL All Star, has six points (4g, 2a) in his last five games to solidify his hold on the team lead. Additionally, rookie Jaden Schwartz recorded an assist on Thursday to extend his road scoring streak to nine games, tying the longest posted by any player in the league this season.
Peoria’s winning streak has them in a three-way tie for first in a tight Midwest Division, in which last-place Milwaukee trials them by just three points.
Down 4-0 with less than nine minutes remaining in the third period on Thursday, the Checkers erased a four-goal deficit for the first time in team history to earn a point against Peoria. Bobby Sanguinetti started the rally with two goals less than two minutes apart, with Riley Nash adding a third and Zach Boychuk scoring the tying goal with five seconds left to force overtime
Though it ranked as the biggest comeback since the Checkers moved to the AHL, the team has already had some notable rallies this season. It erased a 3-0 deficit (down 4-1 in the second period) at Grand Rapids on Oct. 26 and scored the tying goal with 13 seconds remaining in regulation in a game against Houston last week.
The Checkers are 6-3-1 when trailing after the first period, with their six victories the most by any AHL team in that situation. Their three victories when trailing after two periods (3-6-1) are tied for third-most. The Checkers are 7-4-2 when giving up the game's first goal.
The Checkers' 54 shots against Peoria on Thursday were the most in team history, eclipsing 50-shot effort in a shootout loss to Rockford on Nov. 18, 2011. It also marked the most shots taken by any AHL team this season and the most since Wilkes-Barre/Scranton also fired 54 on Nov. 23, 2011. Since the Checkers came into the AHL to start the 2010-11 season, a 54-or-more-shot game has been achieved just five times.
For the season, the Checkers have three players in the AHL's top 12 in terms of shots on goal in Drayson Bowman (4th - 95), Zac Dalpe (5th - 93) and Zach Boychuk (12th - 86). As a team, Charlotte ranks second in the league in shots per game with an average of 33.2.
The Checkers have earned points in each of their last five games (4-0-1), marking their second point streak of five or more games this season. A point tonight would tie their longest streak of the season, a six-game run (5-0-1) set from Nov. 8-21. The longest point streak in team history was a seven-game streak (4-0-3) set from Oct. 29-Nov. 7, 2010.
After going eight-games without a goal, Checkers scoring leader Zach Boychuk scored his 14th of the season to tie the game with five seconds remaining in regulation on Thursday. The game was part of a three-point night for Boychuk (1g, 2a) that tied his season high set in the second game of the season at Texas on Nov. 14.
Boychuk is now tied for the team lead and ranks tied for fourth in the AHL with 14 goals and is just six away from tying his career high from the Checkers' inaugural 2010-11 season. He is tied for fifth in overal AHL scoring with 27 points (14g, 13a) in 29 games, is tied for second in the AHL with six power-play goals and is tied for third with four game-winning goals.
Boychuk now has a five-game point streak (1g, 7a) that ties his longest of the season. He has recorded at least one assist in each of those games, with his resulting five-game assist streak marking the longest of his professional career.
Defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti recorded two goals against Peoria on Thursday, marking his first multi-goal game since the only other time he accomplished the feat on Oct. 31, 2009. Sanguinetti, who had previously not scored since Nov. 18, now has four goals on the season and ranks tied for ninth among AHL defensemen in scoring with 18 total points (4g, 14a).
In the Driver's Seat
The Checkers' current five-game point streak has allowed them to solidify the top spot in the South Division, which they've held since winning at Rockford on Oct. 20, a span of 61 days. They currently lead Houston and Texas, who are tied for second place, by five points.
Heating up at Home
After dropping a team-record five consecutive home games from Nov. 24-Dec. 6, the Checkers are 4-1-1 in their last six at Time Warner Cable Arena, including an active four-game point streak that is tied for the longest active streak in the league. The Checkers are now 7-7-1 at home this season and 10-2-2 on the road, where they have an active three-game win streak.
Zach Boychuk has assists and points in each of his last five games (Dec. 11-20; 1g, 7a)
Marc-Andre Gragnani has points in each of his last three games (Dec. 14-16; 1g, 2a)
Justin Peters has won each of his last three starts (Dec.11-16)
Bobby Sanguinetti has points in each of his last three games (Dec. 15-20; 2g, 2a)
Riley Nash has points in each of his last two games (Dec. 16-20; 1g, 1a)
Drayson Bowman has points in each of his last two games (Dec. 16-20; 1g, 1a)
Marc-Andre Gragnani (lower body, Dec. 16) - missed one game