What was almost a devastating loss ended up turning out just fine for the Checkers.
Despite giving up a three-goal lead, including the tying goal with just 1:30 remaining in regulation, Charlotte eventually prevailed in the shootout to take a 4-3 win over the visiting Rockford IceHogs on Thursday. Riley Nash scored twice and Zac Dalpe added another as the Checkers went a perfect three-for-three on the power play to extend their recent hot streak in that department.
The game marked the Checkers’ second consecutive shootout win over Rockford, giving them points in all five games against their Midwest Divisional rivals thus far (4-0-1). In his second consecutive start in place of injured starter Mike Murphy, John Muse stopped 32 shots to improve to 5-0-0 as a Checker.
Rather than stew on the lost lead, which saw Rockford out-score them 2-0 in the third period, Charlotte, which got the full two points to win for the fifth time in its last six games, can breathe a sigh of relief heading into Friday’s rematch.
“Our focus going into the game was the win, and we got the win,” said Daniels. “That's the positive of this game. You don't want to give up goals late, but at the end of the day we found a way to win."
“They ramped it up a little bit,” said Checkers forward Drayson Bowman, who recorded 2 assists and a shootout goal. “We might have been coasting a little bit because of being up three goals. It's been a tough travel week for us, but at the end of the day you can't really use that as an excuse because they're sure not going to let up."
The Checkers, which were playing their first game at home following a grueling three-game trip through Abbotsford and Norfolk, improved to 15-6-3 at Time Warner Cable Arena this season. Their 33 points earned at home are the most of any AHL team.
If somewhat disappointed in his team’s five-on-five play in the third period, there can be no ill words spoken of the team’s scorching power play. The Checkers now have a man-advantage goal in each of their last seven games, having converted 13 of 35 opportunities during that span (37.1 percent). Their three goals in this particular contest tied a season high and gave them multiple power play goals in three of their last four games.
“It feels good,” said Bowman, who has 7 points (3g, 4a) in his last five games. “We’re really snapping it around out there.”
“Guys are just keeping it simple,” said defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti, who earned an assist to extend his career-long point streak to 7 games (3g, 8a). “We're just moving the puck around and putting pucks on net and they're going in. It's nice to see guys getting rewarded now with the hard work."
Checkers leading scorer Chris Terry also picked up an assist to match Sanguinetti’s streak at seven games (4g, 10a). Both players are now just one game shy of tying Terry’s team-record, eight-game streak that he set earlier this season.
Though he may not have a streak of his own, Nash’s second career multi-goal game and first of the season gave him 5 points (3g, 2a) in four games since taking over as the team’s No. 1 center following the trade of Jon Matsumoto. His first goal that opened the scoring at 5:46 of the first period came on a redirection of a hard Bowman pass as he crashed the net, while his second at 2:59 of the second came on a blistering one-time shot from the left circle after Terry faked a shot to open the shooting lane.
“It’s another opportunity when we're losing one of our top centerman and the onus is on other guys down the middle,” said Nash. “You just try to elevate your game and help out as much as possible and not add a lot of pressure on yourself to go out and score four or five goals every night.”
Dalpe, in his second game back from Carolina after the NHL club reassigned him during its All-Star break, made it 3-0 just six minutes after Nash’s second tally on a one-time finish from Zach Boychuk that beat Rockford’s Carter Hutton, the reigning AHL Player of the Week, between the legs. The Checkers didn’t even need the full two-minute power play to capitalize on that goal, as overlapping penalties by the two teams gave them just 46 seconds to work with.
In what would prove to be a key turning point, the IceHogs’ Peter Leblanc got one back for the visitors with just 1:01 remaining in the second period, setting the stage for the third-period rally that included a second goal by Leblanc just before the halfway point and Brandon Pirri’s equalizer, a laser from the right circle that beat Muse over the left shoulder.
That set the stage for an eventful overtime that featured missed breakaway chances by Terry and Rockford’s Rostislav Olesz and a five-round shootout that saw Bowman, Terry and Matthew Pistilli score on Hutton while Muse stopped three of five shooters.
Friday’s rematch, part of the team’s annual Race Night event, will mark the Checkers’ final contest before heading into the week-long All-Star break. They resume play the following Friday on the road against the AHL’s No. 1 team in Oklahoma City.
NOTES: Including his first career AHL appearance with Portland last season, Muse improved to 2-0 in shootouts … The Checkers are now 5-2 in shootouts this season, with their five wins tying them for second-most in the league … Pistilli’s shootout goal was his second shootout winner, putting him into a six-way tie for first in the league with teammates Terry and A.J. Jenks, among others … Recent trade acquisitions Jenks, Evgenii Dadonov and Joe Sova made their home debuts for Charlotte … Boychuk has one assist in each of his last four games … The Checkers improved to 11-3-1 against divisional opponents … Defenseman Ryan Donald and forward Jared Staal were healthy scratches for Charlotte. Chris Durno, Chris Murray, Mike Murphy, Mathieu Roy and Justin Shugg missed the game due to injury … Fans voted Nash the winner of the Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game award.