The Charlotte Checkers seem to have a knack this season for taking games that they appear to have in their back pocket and then blowing the leads to allow their opponents a chance to get back in. Last night was no exception as the Rockford Icehogs took advantage of some Charlotte miscues to claw their way back into a game they had no business being in. In true nailbiter fashion, the contest went into a shootout where the Checkers were thankfully able to bring home the 4-3 victory.
The Checkers jumped out to an early three goal lead before the game had even hit the halfway mark thanks to a potent power play that converted on all three opportunities they were given. The powerplay, which is now clicking at a rate of 35.1% over their last seven games (13 for 37), jumped up to fourth in the AHL after this evening’s success. Charlotte has scored at least one powerplay goal in each game over that stretch.
Riley Nash picked up the first goal 5:46 into the contest. Bobby Sanguinetti’s assist on the powerplay marker extended his scoring streak to seven games (3G, 8A). During that streak, all but one of Sanguinetti’s points have come on the man-advantage.
Nash also picked up the second goal on an early second period powerplay, a one-timer from the left circle on a feed from Chris Terry. Like Sanguinetti, Terry now has a seven game point streak of his own where he has picked up 4 goals and 10 assists. Drayson Bowman assisted on both of Nash’s goals, starting a two-game streak (1G, 2A) and now has seven points in his last five (3G, 4A).
Zac Dalpe, assigned to the Checkers over the NHL’s All Star Break, scored his 10th of the season on the power play at the 8:51 mark of the second frame. Dalpe took the puck on a beautiful feed from Zach Boychuk and slipped it between goaltender Carter Hutton’s legs. Boychuk added to his assist streak which is now at four games (4A).
Charlotte’s biggest nemesis this season has been late period goals by the opposition and it reared it’s ugly head again twice tonight. With just 61 seconds remaining in the second period, Peter LeBlanc grabbed a rebound, beating net minder John Muse after the Icehogs threw the puck on net following a neutral zone turnover. LeBlanc also scored his team’s second of the night seven minutes into the third period on an unassisted breakaway after another Checkers’ giveaway at the blueline.
The heartbreaker of the late goals, however came with only 90 seconds to go in regulation. Brandon Pirri tied the game at three a piece when he beat Muse with a perfectly placed shot over his left shoulder.
The game appeared it would be won in overtime when Zach Boychuk sprung Terry for a breakaway, but Terry fired the puck wide. Rockford came right back with a good chance of their own and Muse was able to stand tall, coming up with a huge save and sending the game to a shootout.
Muse, who made 29 saves on the night, would pick up the win after stopping three of five Icehogs’ attempts in the shootout. Muse has now won all five of his contests with the Checkers this season and extended his active win streak to five games.
The two teams meet again tomorrow night to wrap up their schedules prior to the AHL All Star Break. The game starts at 7pm EST at Time Warner Cable Arena and can be seen throughout the Carolinas on TWC Channel 520. Audio and video are also available on www.ahllive.com.