March 24, 2012 8:31 PM
The Checkers were by far the better team for the first half, but didn’t emerge with enough to show for it.
On the strength of two third-period goals, the Hershey Bears came from behind to defeat visiting Charlotte by a 2-1 score on Saturday and extend their winning streak to five games. The result gave Hershey a 3-0-0 lead in the four-game season series with Charlotte that concludes with a rematch on Sunday at 5 p.m.
Bobby Sanguinetti scored Charlotte’s only goal on the power play late in the first period, while Mike Murphy made 25 saves as part of a strong performance in the Checkers goal. While a win could have vaulted the Checkers from seventh to fourth in the Western Conference, they could now enter tomorrow as low as ninth place.
Coming off a much-needed 6-2 victory over Peoria on Wednesday, the Checkers dominated play in the early going, out-shooting Hershey by a 14-4 count in the first period. That included the goal by Sanguinetti, a blast from the right point with 38 seconds remaining that extended the defenseman’s point streak to five games (2g, 6a).
That momentum continued into the second period, with Charlotte’s forecheck and penalty killing clearly frustrating to the home team and its crowd of 10,777, which could often be heard voicing its displeasure. However, the Checkers, continuing a theme that plagued them during a recent three-game losing streak, were unable to capitalize on a handful of chances that included a shorthanded two-on-none with Chris Terry and Brett Sutter, a breakway by Zac Dalpe and a handful of turnovers in the Hershey zone.
As it turned out, the AHL’s second-best offensive team (3.32 goals per game) would not be silenced for long, even though it was playing without three of its top five scorers in Keith Aucoin (NHL recall), Jacob Micflikier and Graham Mink (injury).
Cody Eakin, who returned from the NHL’s Washington Capitals early in the day, started the rally 7:16 into the third period when AHL points leader Chris Bourque (83 points in 63 games) found him behind the Checkers defense for a one-on-one finish against Murphy, who had previously made a string of excellent saves to keep the home team off the board.
Even though the Bears had clearly seized the momentum and gotten the crowd back behind them, the Checkers had a chance to steal it back on a lengthy power-play sequence that included a 21-second, two-man advantage that Hershey’s Kevin Marshall created by hooking Zach Boychuk when it looked certain that Charlotte’s hottest offensive player (five goals in his previous four games) would restore his team’s lead.
Thanks in part to goalie Dany Sabourin (30 saves) who has played well of late with teammate Braden Holtby in the NHL, the Bears survived that sequence and would quickly take their first and only lead on Ryan Potulny’s power-play goal with 4:34 remaining. Though the Checkers had a late six-on-four opportunity on the power play, they were unable to find the equalizer.
Charlotte finished the game 1-for-8 on the power play, including 0-for-4 in the third period. Hershey’s rally marked the seventh time Charlotte has lost in regulation when leading after two periods, which is at least three more times than any other AHL team.
Besides losing the game, the Checkers will await word on whether they’ve also lost alternate captain Nicolas Blanchard due to injury. The right wing left the game after a hard hit by Tomas Kundratek in the third period and lay motionless on the ice for some time before returning to his feet. He left the ice with the assistance of medical staff, but was able to walk to the dressing room on his own power.
NOTES: Hershey’s No. 1 power play (26.4 percent) finished the game 1-for-5 against Charlotte’s No. 2 penalty kill (85.4 percent) … Sanguinetti has 12 points (3g, 9a) in his last 10 games and ranks second on the Checkers with 40 points … Chris Terry and Evgenii Dadonov assisted on Sanguinetti’s goal, giving them point streaks of three and two games, respectively … Zac Dalpe had a game-high five shots … Forward Justin Shugg and defenseman Brandon Gentile were healthy scratches for Charlotte.