Saturday, January 18, 2014

Checkers turnaround Stars with 6-1 win

Aaron Palushaj scores his second of the game on a breakaway late in the first period of Saturday's 6-1 Checkers win over the Texas Stars. .

Sometimes a short turnaround can be a good thing.

Roughly 15 hours after taking an ugly 7-1 loss to the Texas Stars in front of a sold out crowd at Time Warner Cable Arena, the Checkers flipped the script with a 6-1 win in a noontime rematch on Saturday.

With two goals, Aaron Palushaj helped the Checkers set a season-high for goals in a game, while John Muse stopped 23 of 24 shots from the league’s highest scoring offense (3.73 goals a game).

“We responded the right way,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels. “The guys were upset with (Friday) night’s loss and wanted to come out and make a statement against the top team in the league.”

The Checkers (18-19-1), who can even their record at .500 on the season with a win against Norfolk on Sunday, snapped a Stars (25-11-5) four-game winning streak with the victory.

“It always sucks to lose 7-1,” said Zach Boychuk, who scored his team-leading 15th goal of the season in the win. “We know they’re a good hockey team, but it was nice to get a chance right away to go out there and beat them just like they beat us. It’s nice to get some revenge.”

Justin Shugg got the scoring started for the Checkers in the first period when he snuck a wrist shot past Texas goaltender Christopher Nilstorp eight minutes into the first period.

Palushaj took care of the next two goals for the Checkers, first burying a wrist shot from a tough angle and then converting on a breakaway opportunity that was set up by a long pass from Greg Nemisz.

The goals extended a point streak for Palushaj to four games (4g, 3a) and spelled the end of the night for Nilstorp (nine saves on 12 shots), who was replaced in net by Josh Robinson (24 saves).

“(Palushaj’s) feeling good about his game,” said Daniels. “The biggest thing is that he’s skating. He’s making plays, finishing plays and involved. We’ve talked before about him playing a simpler game. He’s not trying to complicate things out there. He’s taking what’s given to him and not forcing plays.”

The only blemish of the first period for the Checkers came in the final minute when Muse tried to glove an attempted dump in by Curtis McKenzie, but instead knocked it in his own net.   

The goal was the strangest the Checkers have allowed all season.

After a bit of a lull to begin the second period, Boychuk put Charlotte back up three. Later in the second, Philippe Cornet stretched the lead to four with his sixth goal of the season.

Victor Rask was the lone Checker to find the back of the net in the third, as Robinson managed to deny multiple breakaway chances for Boychuk and Chris Terry. 

“I’ve got to work on those breakaways, I guess,” said Boychuk. “(Coach Daniels) told me that maybe next time I should just turn up and try to find somebody late, or maybe just dump it in the corner or something. We’ll figure something out.“

Jokes aside, Saturday’s game marked the midway point of the season for the Checkers, who as of Saturday afternoon sit five points of the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

“I think we’re just hitting our strike,” said Boychuk. “Obviously, (Friday) was a bit of a setback, but we answered back with a huge win. We want to get to that point where we’re in playoff contention and every game is going to mean something in the second half of the season.”