Like father, like son. This weekend the Charlotte Checkers looked a bit like their parent club, the Carolina Hurricanes. Stop me if you’ve heard this story before, Caniacs. Canes dominate the season series against one of the top teams in the East (sweep of the Bruins, baby!!!), but struggle against the basement dwellers of the league (seriously, you knew they were the New York Islanders, right?!?!). The story with the Checkers’ opponents this weekend was similar. Friday night they defeated the Oklahoma City Barons, the first place team in the Western Conference, to take a 4-1-1 lead in the season series. Saturday’s opponent, the Texas Stars, are at the opposite end of the spectrum, sitting in dead last in the West. Heading into last night’s game, the Stars held a 2-1 series lead over Charlotte. Thankfully though, the Checkers decided to forge their own identity rather than follow blindly in their father’s footsteps, and were able to hang on for a 4-3 win.
Zac Dalpe got the Checkers on the board first just past the midway point of the first period, taking a pass from Chris Terry and launching a wrister past Stars’ netminder Andrew Raycroft for his eleventh goal of the season. Texas would answer right back though, taking only a couple minutes for Angelo Esposito to beat John Muse with a backhand shot from the slot and even up the score.
Charlotte opened up the door for the Stars to take control of the game midway through the second period when Zach Boychuk was sent to the box for a five minute boarding major. The Checkers were able to pick up momentum from the successful penalty kill as Jerome Samson regained the lead when he knocked a Michal Jordan shot out of mid-air and sent it past Raycroft.
Samson would grab his second goal of the night just 1:25 into the third period, converting on a Bobby Sanguinetti feed that would give the Checkers a two-goal lead. Samson’s two tallies bring his season goal total to a team-leading 17. Sanguinetti’s assist extends his point streak to 10 games (4G, 9A). The streak is the currently the longest active streak in the AHL.
The Stars’ Ryan Garbutt brought his team back to within one midway through the third frame, but the Checkers had the quick answer this time. Just 36 seconds after Garbutt’s goal, Jared Staal deflected a Mathieu Roy shot from the point past Raycroft, restoring a two goal lead for Charlotte. The goal was Staal’s first tally since mid-December, ending a fourteen game drought. Justin Soryal notched the secondary assist, giving him a three-game assist/point streak (3A).
Texas came on strong the rest of the third period, pulling to within one after a Travis Morin shorthanded goal, but the Checkers were able to hold off their comeback attempt. John Muse played hero again, making several key stops in the final period that saw his team outshot by an 18-7 margin. Muse finished the game with 32 saves.
Muse has been phenomenal stepping in for the injured Mike Murphy, posting a 7-1-0 record this season with a very impressive 1.67 goals against average and a 0.948 save percentage. The Hurricanes/Checkers will have some interesting decisions to make as Murphy and injured Canes’ back-up Brain Boucher are nearing returns to the ice. Muse’s play this season does not warrant a return to the ECHL, but he may end up a victim of numbers/contract status when Boucher returns to the Canes lineup and Justin Peters is reassigned to Charlotte. Stay tuned to see how things play out…
Official Game Sheet: here
The Checkers return home to practice for the week before hitting the road again next weekend for important divisional games in Milwaukee and Peoria. Audio and video of the games are available on www.ahllive.com.