Norfolk’s Cory Conacher scored the winning goal early in the third period as the Admirals beat the visiting Checkers by a 4-3 score on Saturday night.
Jon Matsumoto had three assists for Charlotte, giving him back-to-back three-point games for the first time in his AHL career, while Drayson Bowman scored his first two goals of the season and had another disallowed just after the whistle blew in the second period. Former Admiral Mathieu Roy rounded out the scoring with his first goal as a Checker, while Mike Murphy made 40 saves in goal.
With the regulation win, Norfolk takes a three-point lead in the standings for the GEICO Challenge Cup, which will be awarded to the team with the most points at the conclusion of the eight-game season series.
Much as it was in the first match-up between the two teams on Friday night, a 6-5 overtime victory for Norfolk, the Admirals dominated the shots on goal battle with a total of 44-29. That included a 17-7 differential in the first period, with the teams exiting that frame on even terms after power play goals by Norfolk’s Carter Ashton, whose two goals in the opener included the overtime winner, and Bowman.
Bowman’s first goal – a rocket from the slot that beat Norfolk goaltender Jaroslav Janus, was one of two Checkers’ power play goals on the evening as the team improved from its 1-8 showing on Friday with a 2-5 result in Saturday’s rematch. The other came midway through the second period, as the Checkers took their only lead of the evening, 2-1, on a blast from the point by Roy that found its way through traffic in front.
That lead would be short lived, as the Admirals continued another trend from Friday by providing a quick response to Checkers goals. Just 58 seconds after Roy’s tally, the Admirals Alexandre Picard scored his second goal of the series to tie the game. Tyler Johnson would put home a rebound on a shot that hit the post behind Murphy after another five minutes, giving Norfolk a 3-2 lead.
It appeared as though the Checkers would head to the second intermission trailing by one, but quick work on an offensive zone faceoff in the dying seconds paid off for Charlotte. After Matsumoto won the draw, defenseman Brett Bellemore took a shot from the point that hit Bowman and deflected in with 10 seconds remaining.
That score would hold until Ashton corralled the puck on an offensive zone faceoff win by Norfolk around six minutes into the third period, sending a backhand pass to Conacher for a finish on the doorstep. The Checkers best chances to tie the game came on a four-on-three power play that resulted from an interference penalty and scrum caused by a poorly-timed hit against Checkers captain Brett Sutter and a missed breakaway by Matt Pistilli.
The Checkers now return home, where they prepare for their opening night match-up with Peoria at Time Warner Cable Arena on Saturday and a rematch the following day. The first 3,500 fans to arrive on Saturday will receive a Checkers house flag courtesy of Time Warner Cable, while the first 7,000 to arrive will get a magnet schedule from Presbyterian Hospital.
Checkers defenseman Michal Jordan left the game early in the first period and did not return… Charlotte used the same lineup from Friday’s game, with defenseman Ryan Donald and forward Jared Staal out as healthy scratches… Checkers defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti assisted on Bowman’s first goal, giving him three assists on the season… Murphy lost his stick prior to Ashton’s goal, but had secured a replacement from one of his defenseman prior to the shot.