Just when it seemed like the Checkers' losing streak had hit its lowest point yet, it was over.
The Checkers canceled out a disastrous opening period by scoring four unanswered goals to secure a 4-2 win over Chicago that halted their losing run at four games. Zach Boychuk, Zac Dalpe and Jon Matsumoto each had 2 points, while rookie John Muse stopped all 21 shots he faced in relief of Mike Murphy.
Having entered the game with promises of building on the solid effort during the previous night’s 2-1 loss, the Checkers did anything but after getting out-shot 14-2 and out-scored 2-0 in the opening 20 minutes on two tallies by the visitors’ Victor Oreskovich. That prompted the quick pull of Murphy, with Muse making his second career AHL appearance and first of the season.
“Where was the passion, where was the commitment, where were all the things we were talking about before the game?” asked coach Jeff Daniels.
That was also a question he asked of his team during the intermission, which may have helped spark the team’s rally. The four-goal response was one more than the Checkers scored in their previous four games combined.
“After the first period we were disappointed in our effort, and J.D. told us to start playing or he’d find other players who would,” said Boychuk.
The Checkers would take that message to heart, with Matt Pistilli clawing one back on the power play in the second period before the team completed the comeback with three goals in the third.
“We showed our character and how much we cared,” said Daniels.
“It was good to show some heart like that, and we knew we had that effort in us,” said Boychuk.
Besides finding their offensive touch at long last, the team also rallied around Muse, who has appeared in several Checkers games as the backup this season but had not played in the AHL since a one-game stint with Portland at the end of last season. Though he would stop every shot he faced, the two-time NCAA national championship winner with Boston College got in trouble during a Chicago power play early in the second period but was helped by great last-ditch efforts by defensemen Brett Bellemore and Justin Krueger.
“Anytime I let up a rebound, the defense and the forwards were there to help me out, which made my job a lot easier,” said Muse.
Murphy exited the game after allowing two goals on 12 shots, but made a string of highlight-reel saves prior to allowing the goals, which resulted in a bad break on a bouncing puck and a two-on-one rush.
“We needed a spark,” said Daniels. “I wasn’t happy with the two goals, and I thought Muser came in and played well.”
Friday’s game marked the first time Daniels had ever seen Muse in game action, even though he’s seen plenty of him in practices during training camp and two separate recalls.
“I’ve heard nothing but good things about him, and I know he’s a big-game goalie from his experience in college,” said Daniels. “I talked to his coach in Florida, Greg Poss, and he told me he’s a guy I should have the confidence to put in there.”
From there, the floodgates opened offensively with three of the team’s four goals coming on the power play, beginning with Pistilli’s deflection of a Mathieu Roy shot and continuing with Matsumoto’s rebound finish from a sharp angle.
Boychuk, who had not recorded a goal in his past eight contests, scored the eventual winner on a give-and-go with Chris Terry at the 7:29 mark of the third period. Jerome Samson would add the final tally, taking a faceoff win from Matsumoto and firing it past Eddie Lack just two seconds into the team's final power play.
“It’s been tough,” said Boychuk of the team’s recent slump. “It’s the time of year where guys start to settle in and wait for that Christmas break, and you can’t do that.”
The Checkers will have two more contests before skipping town for roughly nine days, as they host the Oklahoma City Barons for games on Sunday and Tuesday.
NOTES: Boychuk was missing parts of three teeth after receiving a high stick on the play that resulted in Matsumoto’s goal … Pistilli, who now has 6 goals on the season, had been a healthy scratch for three of the team’s previous six games … Forward Justin Shugg, who was injured during the second period of Thursday’s game, did not play for Charlotte. Defenseman Chris Murray and center Cedric McNicoll were the other scratches … Brett Sutter recorded a game-high six shots … Fans voted Muse the winner of the Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game.