Friday, January 24, 2014

Checkers roll on Race Night

The Checkers simply could not have scripted Race Night any better.

They scored a season-high nine goals, dropped the gloves six times, stopped a penalty shot, and had two players record hat tricks – one of which being of the Gordie Howe variety.

In one of the wilder games of the season, the Checkers (21-19-1) dispatched the Oklahoma City Barons, 9-3, in front of a sold out crowd of 8,160 at Time Warner Cable Arena on Friday.

“That had a bit of everything,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels, whose squad won for the fourth time in a row. “There were some goals, some fights, some saves. You know, it was a win and we just needed the win and we’ll move on from there.”

Zach Boychuk led the way with the second hat trick of his career, while Brett Sutter recorded a goal, a couple assists, and a fighting major.

“That was probably one of the most exciting games I’ve been apart of with the Checkers,” said Boychuk, who leads Charlotte with 18 goals this season. “You can’t get more exciting than that. You get a bunch of fights, a bunch of goals, a hat trick and a big win – that’s the most important part.”

John Muse, who tried to drop the gloves with Baron’s goaltender Chet Pickard late in the third before referees intervened, finished the game with 26 saves and won for the 12th time in his last 14 starts.

The win also tied Muse with Justin Peters for second all-time in wins as a Checkers goalie with 33.  

Both Aaron Palushaj and Greg Nemisz extended their current point streaks. Palushaj, whose streak is now at seven games, recorded a goal and an assist. Nemisz (one goal, one assist) remained one game behind his line mate, recording at least a point for his sixth consecutive contest.

After a week of struggling on the power play – and a 0-for-5 showing on Thursday – the Checkers’ special teams came out firing on all cylinders, scoring on their first three chances up a man.

When the final horn sounded, the Checkers had set a new franchise-record for power play goals in a single game with five (they finished the night 5-for-8).

“When we get in trouble, we try to over-pass the puck,” said Daniels. “Tonight, we just kept a shooting mentality and it wound up being one of those nights where the puck found the back of the net.”

Palushaj got the scoring started for the Checkers when he sent a slap shot whistling past Pickard (38 saves) at 10:41 in the first.

Brody Sutter earned the assist by laying out to block a Barons (16-22-6) shot. The puck kicked hard off him and sprung Palushaj for the breakaway.

“That was huge,” said Daniels. “I thought they came out and were a different team tonight than they were last night. They were trying to set a physical tone. I thought we responded in the right way. Obviously, Palushaj made a nice shot, but you’ve got to look back at Brody, who laid down and got the big block to set up that goal.”

Almost exactly a minute later, the Barons evened the score at one, when C.J. Stretch redirected a shot off the ice and then up and over the shoulder of Muse, who never had a chance at it.

Muse, who shutout the Barons on Thursday, continued his run of solid goaltending later in the first when he turned away a Tyler Pitlick penalty shot.

Goals by Nemisz, Brett Sutter and Boychuk sent the Checkers into the third period leading 4-2.

The Checkers then erupted for five goals in the third period (Boychuk, Boychuk, Victor Rask, Matt Marquardt and Rasmus Rissanen).

Ryan Murphy, who was assigned to the Checkers earlier in the day from the Hurricanes, finished the game with three assists, including a long cross-ice pass that led to Rask's goal. 

The win moved the Checkers to two games over .500 on the season and into seventh place in the Western Conference, a remarkable turnaround for a team that sat seven games below .500 on Dec. 7. 

“It’s a funny game,” said Chris Terry, who had four assists on the night. “Back in November, we were down in the dumps. We’d almost taken ourselves out of the playoffs. And now, we’re full of confidence, but at the same time we know what we’re doing and why we’re winning.”

 An earlier version of this story may have implied that John Muse had tied Justin Peters for the Checkers record for wins as a goalie. Muse tied Peters for second all-time. Mike Murphy holds the Checkers record for all-time wins.


Anonymous said...

Great writing Seth. Thanks!