Despite out-shooting their opponents by a wide margin once again, the Checkers still came short of breaking their winless streak on Thursday.
The Monsters’ Mike Sgarbossa scored on an overtime power play and goalie Calvin Pickard made 35 saves as the Checkers went without a victory for the fourth consecutive game, all on the road. Zach Boychuk had tied the game on a five-on-three power play midway through the third period to set up the extra session of what would become a 2-1 defeat.
With the win, Lake Erie took a 2-1 lead in the four-game season series between the two clubs that concludes with Friday’s rematch at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena. The Checkers have yet to earn a win in three games at Lake Erie over the last two seasons, with all three defeats coming by way of overtime (twice) or shootout.
Though they still earned a point by way of overtime loss – the second of their winless streak – the Checkers found some similarities between Thursday’s game and their previous outing on Sunday, a 5-2 loss in which they out-shot San Antonio 51-31. The final total against Lake Erie was 36-25, a total that the home team made closer with a flurry of chances against the Checkers’ Dan Ellis late in regulation. Despite averaging 35 shots on goal over their last five games, Charlotte scored two or fewer goals in each.
Lake Erie would need only one shot to win the game 1:52 into overtime, just 14 seconds into a slashing penalty to Charlotte defenseman Brett Bellemore – his second minor infraction of the game. During the four-on-three session, Karl Stollery took a shot from the right point that was tipped in by scoring leader Mike Sgarbossa, who was in good position in front of Ellis.
The Checkers’ penalty kill, ranked fifth in the AHL coming in, had killed all three of Lake Erie’s previous power plays, including a late cross-checking penalty to Bobby Raymond that could have prevented them from earning the single point.
Aside from Sgarbossa’s winner, the only other time the Monsters were able to solve Ellis, now winless in his last three appearances despite the 23-save effort, was late in the first period when David van der Gulik corralled a rebound, skated around the sprawled goaltender and scored with 54 seconds remaining. That answered what had been a dominant yet fruitless start for Charlotte, which had a 12-1 shots advantage after the games’ first 15 minutes.
The Checkers again enjoyed a spell of tilted ice to start the final frame, taking eight of the period’s first nine shots. This time they made one count, as Boychuk took a pass from Chris Terry in the slot and fired one past Pickard, who was coming off a 17-save shutout in the Monsters’ most recent game on Saturday.
That marked the second consecutive game with a power-play goal for the Checkers, who went through an 0-for-18 drought prior to a Bobby Sanguinetti goal that came just after another two-man advantage had expired on Sunday. The goal was Boychuk’s seventh on the power play this season, pulling him into a four-way tie for third in the AHL.
As was the case on Sunday when he left the game due to a hard punch during a first-period fight and did not return, the Checkers played the majority of the game without forward Nicolas Blanchard. One of the team’s alternate captains and top penalty killers, Blanchard took a penalty near the end of the first period but, surprisingly, did not return to serve its remainder in the second.
Aside from putting an end to their winless streak, the Checkers will also enter Friday’s rematch looking to halt Lake Erie’s winning streak at home, which is now at five games.
Ellis’ last victory was on Dec. 14 … Bellemore had taken two minor penalties on just one previous occurrence this season … The Checkers’ Zac Dalpe led all skaters with six shots on goal … Sgarbossa extended his home point streak to seven games, while defenseman Tyson Barrie extended his home assist streak to six games … Forwards Justin Soryal and Jared Staal and defenseman Tommi Kivisto were healthy scratches for Charlotte, while defensemen Marc-Andre Gragnani and Rasmus Rissanen missed the game due to injury.
North Carolina Education Lottery Three Stars
1. Mike Sgarbossa (Lake Erie)
2. Calvin Pickard (Lake Erie)
3. David van der Gulik (Lake Erie)