East Division Semifinal Preview
The Checkers posted a 44-27-2-7 record in their first ever AHL regular season and will face the two-time defending champion Hershey Bears (46-26-3-5) in the East Division Semifinals. Charlotte will be looking to avenge a second-round sweep at the hands of Hershey last season when the team was known as the Albany River Rats.
Game 1: Thurs, April 14 at Hershey, 7 p.m. (WFNZ 610AM/AHLLive.com)
Game 2: Sun, April 17 at Hershey, 5 p.m. (WFNZ 610AM/AHLLive.com)
Game 3: Tues, April 19 at Charlotte, 7 p.m. (AHLLive.com)- GET TICKETS
Game 4: Wed, April 20 at Charlotte, 7 p.m. (AHLLive.com)- GET TICKETS
*Game 5: Fri, April 22 at Charlotte, 7 p.m. (AHLLive.com)
*Game 6: Sun, April 24 at Hershey, 5 p.m. (WFNZ 610AM/AHLLive.com)
*Game 7: Mon, April 25 at Hershey, 7 p.m. (WFNZ 610AM/AHLLive.com)
The two division rivals split the eight-game season series but have met just twice since December, including a 1-0 Bears win and 5-0 rout by the Checkers in Hershey.
Nov. 7 – Hershey 2 @ Charlotte 4
Nov. 9 – Hershey 5 @ Charlotte 2
Nov. 28 – Charlotte 5 @ Hershey 2
Dec. 10 – Hershey 2 @ Charlotte 1
Dec. 12 – Hershey 3 @ Charlotte 5
Dec. 19 – Charlotte 3 @ Hershey 6
Jan. 29 – Charlotte 0 @ Hershey 1
Feb. 20 – Charlotte 5 @ Hershey 0
Last season, 16 current Charlotte Checkers (as the Albany River Rats) faced off against the Bears in the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs. Although Hershey swept the series en route to winning its second straight Calder Cup, three of the games were decided in overtime and the Bears trailed in the third period of all three contests.
How They Come In
After clinching a playoff berth with a week left in the regular season, the Checkers won two of their last three games and went 6-2-0-1 in their last nine games.
Hershey, meanwhile, clinched its sixth consecutive trip to the playoffs on Mar. 26 and finished the season 4-3-1-0 in the final eight games, including back-to-back losses in the final weekend.
Thanks to a late-season offensive surge, the Checkers finished the season with 265 goals (3.31 per game), which tied with Norfolk for second best in the league.
Down the stretch, Charlotte’s best offensive player was Zach Boychuk, whose five goals and 11 assists in the last nine games moved him past Chris Terry for the team lead with 65 points (22g, 43a). Boychuk also did the most damage against Hershey this season with nine assists in seven games.
Terry, meanwhile, notched five goals in eight games against the Bears and led all Eastern Conference players with 34 goals on the season.
The Checkers as a team finished the regular season with six 20-goal scorers and eight players with 40-or-more points.
Former Carolina Hurricanes forward Keith Aucoin led the Bears’ sixth-ranked offense and finished tied for fifth in the AHL with 72 points (18g, 54a), while becoming the 21st player in league history to reach 700 career points.
Brian Willsie, Kyle Greentree and Andrew Gordon led the goal-scoring attack with 30, 30 and 28 tallies each, respectively.
The Checkers were one of just four teams to have two goaltenders earn at least 20 wins this season. Mike Murphy (21 wins) suffered an injury in late March and Justin Pogge (22 wins) started 10 of Charlotte’s final 11 games to lead the team into the playoffs.
Murphy, whose shutout on Feb. 20 was the first by an opposing goaltenders in 71 straight games at Giant Center in Hershey, has been cleared to practice and should make his return in the series.
The Bears, meanwhile, received a tremendous boost between the posts when Braden Holtby was returned to the team from the Washington Capitals on Mar. 27. Despite posting a stellar 1.79 goals-against average, .934 save percentage and being named the NHL’s Star of the Week during the second week of March, Holtby was replaced by Hershey alumni Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov. The good news for the Checkers is that they’ve found a hole in the armor of Holtby, who is 2-3-0, 3.16, .887 against Charlotte this season.
The Checkers’ late-season goal-scoring binge was fueled by a resurgent power-play unit, which went 12-of-28 (43%) over the lasts even games of the season. This torrid pace helped Charlotte finish the season at 21% on the man advantage, which was good for third in the AHL.
In their last seven games, the Bears went just 5-of-42 (12%) on the power play, while going 0-for-19 over the last three and a half games.
Charlotte’s once top-ranked penalty kill unit somewhat faltered down the stretch and thwarted just 32-of-41 (78%) chances over the last 10 games of the season, but also managed to score three shorthanded goals. The Checkers finished the season with the ninth-ranked penalty kill and hope to shut down a Bears power play that includes Sheldon Souray, who set the NHL record for power-play goals in a season by a defenseman (19) with the Montreal Canadiens in 2006-07.
New vs. Old
For Charlotte, the upcoming playoff series is the first in AHL team history. In stark contrast, Hershey enters the playoffs with an AHL-best 11 championships in its 72 years in the AHL. The Bears are the seventh oldest North American professional team still in existence, behind only the NHL’s Original Six.
Charlotte player stats / Hershey player stats
Series preview at TheAHL.com
Series preview at HersheyBears.com