After what’s been a streaky several weeks, the Checkers seem to have hit their stride once again.
The Checkers stormed out to a 3-0 lead in the second period and never looked back en route to an eventual 4-1 win over the Chicago Wolves. Charlotte, which improved to 4-0-1 in its last five contests, is now guaranteed to enter the new year with at least a share of the Midwest Division lead.
Nicolas Blanchard, Jerome Samson and Zach Boychuk opened the scoring for the Checkers to continue personal point streaks, with Brett Sutter adding an empty-net goal in the dying minutes. Mike Murphy made 28 saves in his sixth consecutive start for the Checkers.
Charlotte’s current point streak ties its longest of the season, a team-record five-game winning streak in late November. In between those two runs, the Checkers had lost five of six contests to open the month of December.
In their third meeting of the season with Chicago, which had won seven of its last nine games coming in, the Checkers took an early lead on Blanchard’s third goal of the season just 5:45 into the first period. The goal came on a deflection of a point shot by Brett Bellemore, who recorded a career-high 2 assists and his second career multi-point game.
Samson would add to the lead midway through the second period, scoring his team-leading 14th goal of the season and fourth in his last five games on the game’s first power play. Though the Checkers would follow that up by taking two consecutive penalties, resulting in a 45-second two-man advantage by the home team, they would hold Chicago without a shot before Boychuk put home a rebound to close the period.
By holding Chicago off the score sheet on those man advantages and one other in the third period, the Checkers improved upon a stretch that has now seen them kill 21 consecutive penalties dating back to Dec. 11. They have now gone a season best five consecutive games without allowing a power-play goal.
Murphy, who made several key saves whenever the Wolves began to show signs of getting back into the game, lost his bid to post the Checkers’ first shutout of the season when Anton Rodin beat him with a well-placed shot that found the inside of the post behind his glove. Murphy, who was later named the game’s first star, improved to 3-1-1 since returning from his first NHL recall in mid-December.
The third-year goalie was at his best when needed in the third period, during which Chicago out-shot the Checkers 15-4. Matt Climie, starting against the Checkers for the first time this season, made 17 saves on 20 shots for Chicago.
Even with Murphy strong in goal, the Checkers provided more than enough offensive support, which has been a sore spot at times this season. Having scored a total of just three goals during a recent four-game losing streak, they have now totaled 18 during their current five-game point streak.
The Checkers now stay in Chicago to ring in the new year before returning to Charlotte to host back-to-back games against San Antonio starting Tuesday.
Blanchard’s goal, his third of the season, was his first since Nov. 5 … Samson extended his point streak to five games (4g, 1a). Eight of his 14 goals have come on the power play, tying him for third most in the AHL … Boychuk has 6 points (2g, 4a) in his last five games … Defenseman Chris Murray was a healthy scratch for Charlotte, while rookie forward Justin Shugg sat out due to injury … the Checkers improved to 9-2-1 against the Midwest, the best record of any team against its own division.