It wasn’t the first time the Checkers have lost a lead they shouldn’t have, but it was easily the most costly.
Leading 2-0 and in control of the play with 10 minutes left in regulation, the Checkers allowed Houston to score two goals in eight seconds before the Aeros’ Jeff Taffe sealed a heartbreaking loss with just four seconds remaining in the contest. The game, the Checkers' fifth of the season, already marked the third time the team had lost a lead of two goals or more, but unlike the previous instances, they were not able to salvage a point in the standings.
“It’s something we have to figure out,” said Checkers forward Jerome Samson. “We can’t point the finger, but it’s happening and we have to fix it.”
“We’re not wanting to put the work in for 60 minutes,” said coach Jeff Daniels.
The Aeros’ rally started when Casey Wellman scored his fifth goal of the season on a power play at the 10:01 mark of the final frame, spoiling a shutout bid by Checkers starter Justin Peters. Peters, who had 26 saves at that point, suffered an injury on the play and had to be helped off the ice, with Houston’s David McIntyre beating Mike Murphy on the visitors’ first shot after the break.
“There was a break there after the first goal, and when it started back up again they came right at us after the faceoff and we weren’t ready for it,” said Zach Boychuk, who scored both Checkers goals on the power play.
“When you give up a goal you’ve got to be ready on the next shift, because they got one by us and next thing you know you lose the game,” said Daniels.
That’s exactly what happened when Taffe took a pass from Chad Rau in the slot and sent a backhand past Murphy, who finished with nine saves on 11 shots as the Checkers were out-shot 17-8 in the third period.
The lost lead harkened back to the team’s first game of the season, in which it lost two separate two goal leads to the Norfolk Admirals before losing in overtime, and the team’s home opener, in which it allowed three goals in just over three minutes before prevailing in a lengthy shootout.
“I don’t know what it is,” said Boychuk. “(Daniels) even said in the second intermission that it’s been happening to us so we have to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“We’ve got a lot of leadership in that room, and this shouldn’t be happening.”
Boychuk got Charlotte on the board at the 9:28 mark of the first period with just four seconds left on a five-on-three power play, taking a pass from Samson, who had himself corralled the rebound of a Justin Faulk point shot. He would strike again in the second period with just one second left on a penalty that he himself had drawn, coming down the left wing with speed and dodging the poke check attempt of Houston goalie Matt Hackett before scoring on a sprawling backhand deke.
The second goal, a near carbon copy of his highlight-reel effort from a week earlier against Peoria, gave him sole possession of the team lead with four, breaking a tie with Samson, Drayson Bowman and Jon Matsumoto.
Following the game, Daniels did not have an update on Peters’ condition, making him questionable at best for the team’s next two games on Saturday and Sunday.
The first of those, a 7 p.m. affair at Time Warner Cable Arena, will mark quick rematch between the Checkers and Aeros, who played their first-ever meeting on Friday but will conclude their four-game season series on Nov. 13 in Houston.
“It’s a positive thing to get back and play them again tomorrow night to try to get back those two points they stole from us tonight,” said Samson.
Fans voted Boychuk the “Roll Up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game Presented by Community Blood Center of the Carolinas. For more information on the program, click here
Matsumoto, who entered the game tied for a share of the AHL’s scoring lead, was held scoreless for the first time all season … Peters earned an assist on Boychuk’s second goal, giving him two on the season. He is now tied for seventh on the team in scoring … Faulk was making his AHL regular-season debut, having played for the Checkers during last season’s playoffs and with the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes to start the season … The Checkers finished the night 2-for-6 on the power play and are now converting at 22.6 percent on the season.