The Norfolk Admirals made history on Friday night, and in the process showed the Checkers that it was not by accident.
Norfolk’s 7-2 win in Charlotte on Friday night was their 17th in a row, tying the 2004-05 Philadelphia Phantoms for the longest streak in AHL history. The outcome of their latest triumph was rarely in doubt as they chased starter Mike Murphy with their fourth goal early in the second period and weren’t any kinder to Justin Peters after that.
Zach Boychuk scored two goals for the Checkers, who suffered the most lopsided loss in their two-year history.
"They came skating right from the get-go and we didn't," said Charlotte coach Jeff Daniels. “Result - 7-2.”
After what they considered to be a good week of practice following a big 4-0 win over Chicago in their most recent game, the Checkers were at a near loss to explain what had happened on Friday.
“I don’t know what to say, to be honest,” said captain Brett Sutter. “We knew who they were.”
“We got embarrased at home by a very good team,” said Daniels. "We need to respond. This is desperate times for us, and if we want to make the playoffs we can't afford games like that."
Boychuk at least had one theory, suggesting that the team’s relative success against Norfolk earlier in the season (3-2-1 in head-to-head match-ups coming in) made them more comfortable than they should have been.
“We had their number all year, and maybe we thought the streak wasn’t as big of a deal,” said Boychuk. “We had a few guys come back from Carolina (forward Jerome Samson and defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti) and might have thought it was going to be easier than it really was.”
Though Norfolk took an 2-0 lead on goals by Cory Conacher and Jean-Philippe Cote in the game’s first 10 minutes, it wasn’t until the second period that things began to completely unravel for the Checkers. They actually seemed to be in good position for a comeback after Boychuk’s power-play goal, a finish of a nice cross-ice pass from Chris Terry, had put them within a goal at the intermission.
However, five unanswered goals in the middle frame would quickly put the game out of reach. The surge began when Jeff Dimmen beat Murphy through a partial screen on a wrist shot from the point to make it 3-1, with Tyler Johnson scoring on a wraparound less than five minutes later. It was then that Daniels threw Peters in the game, though the veteran backstop surrendered a goal on his first shot against – an effort by Ondrej Palat that beat him high to the short side.
Murphy finished the night with 13 saves on 17 shots, while Peters, who went on to allow goals by Alex Hutchings and Richard Panik later in the period, stopped 12 of 15.
“We just sat back and let them come to us,” said Sutter.
"It's a little disheartening having a second period like that and kind of quitting on the goalies," said Boychuk.
From there, all the Checkers could do was win the third period, which they did when Boychuk struck again on a loose puck in the slot to record his fourth two-goal game of the season.
“We’re knew we were going to play this team on Sunday, and we had to try to wear them down and play for pride,” said Boychuk, who ended a seven-game goal drought.
The Checkers did out-shoot Norfolk 18-6 in the final frame, which tied the final total at 32 apiece. More than that, they participated in some rough stuff after whistles that never escalated into a fight until Admirals defenseman Radko Gudas challenged a willing A.J. Jenks with just 1:36 left to go.
The Admirals will now have a chance to set a new league record in Sunday afternoon’s rematch at Time Warner Cable Arena that concludes the eight-game season series between the two clubs. Though their recent play has given them far and away the league’s best record and not much to play for in terms of playoff seeding, the shot at history should be clear motivation.
“You know they want to go out and get an AHL record,” said Boychuk.
If the Checkers couldn’t match that motivation before, they hope to remedy that by Sunday.
“We weren't good enough, so obviously we need to come out a little pissed off," said Sutter.
NOTES: Norfolk took a one-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 season series … Norfolk’s last loss came on Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 5). They have out-scored the opposition 71-29 during their streak … The Checkers previously had not lost by more than three goals this season. They lost by four on multiple occasions last season … Forward Justin Soryal and defensemen Justin Krueger and Mathieu Roy sat out due to injury, while Drayson Bowman remained on NHL recall with the Carolina Hurricanes … Fans named Boychuk winner of the Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game Award.