Sunday, January 19, 2014

Lowe helps Checkers fight back to .500

Keegan Lowe spent Saturday watching the Checkers win from the stands.

After finding himself a healthy scratch for the first time in his professional career, the 20-year-old defenseman arrived at the Time Warner Cable Arena ice on Sunday determined to make his presence felt.

The Checkers came out of the gate flat against the Norfolk Admirals and quickly found themselves trailing 2-0, 10 minutes and 22 seconds into the first period.

Knowing the team – which was playing its third game in three days – needed a spark, Lowe took matters into his own hands and challenged Norfolk center Joseph Cramarossa to a fight.

The two went punch-for-punch for about 30 seconds, before Lowe, who stands 6-foot-2, 195-pounds, sent his opponent crashing to the ice with one last right.

From that point on, Charlotte outscored the Admirals 3-1 on their way to a 4-3 shootout victory in front of a home crowd of 6,784.

“We weren’t playing with much emotion (early on) and then Keegan took it upon himself to give the team a spark,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels. “He was upset that he didn’t play yesterday, and he came out and played with an edge and was a big part of the win tonight.”

The Checkers put a season-high 53 shots on Norfolk goalie Brad Thiessen, who turned away 49 despite Sunday being the 2011 AHL goaltender of the year's first game action in over a month. 

"Thiessen's a good goalie," said Checkers netminder John Muse, who finished the game with 36 saves. "I’ve played against him since we were both in college and he’s always been real tough to beat."

Aaron Palushaj got the Checkers started on the comeback trail a couple minutes after Lowe's fight, when he sent a wrist shot past Thiessen with three seconds remaining on a Charlotte power play.

In the second, Mark Flood’s ninth goal of the season – which also came with the Checkers on a man advantage – evened the game at 2-2.

After the Admirals pulled ahead with a power play goal of their own early in the third, the Checkers began to dominate play. 

It began to feel like it was just a matter of time before the Checkers would tie the game.  

And with 5:13 to play, the newly acquired Greg Nemisz did just that, batting the puck into the back on the Norfolk net on his third swipe.

"We had a really good third period and it felt like we were building the whole time," said Nemisz. "Their goalie made a couple big saves, but we just stuck with it."

The goal was Nemisz’ first as a Checker. He now has five points (1g, 4a) in four games for Charlotte.

“He has very quietly been a real solid player for us in all situations,” said Daniels of  Nemisz who was drafted 25th overall in 2008. “Obviously, he’s had more of a defensive role with us, but he’s a guy I wouldn’t hesitate to put up on the power play to create some offense.

“He’s a guy with a track record of a lot of points as a junior,” continued Daniels. “It hasn’t happened in pro yet, but he’s still a young guy and I think the change has been good for him.”

By the end of the third period, Charlotte had recorded a season-high 23 shots, while the Admirals had managed just eight in the frame. 

After a scoreless overtime period, the game went to a shootout. 

Having gone to a shootout just once before this season, the Checkers managed to look like seasoned veterans when Matthew Pistilli, Aaron Palushaj, and Chris Terry all connected on Charlotte's first three attempts on the way to a 3-2 win.

"It’s been awhile, but we work on (shootouts) in practice and we’re always doing them," said Muse, who was in net for the third game in a row after entering Friday night's loss in relief of Mike Murphy. "It’s nothing new."

After opening their three games in three days stretch with a 7-1 loss to the Texas Stars, the Checkers have now won two in a row and are back to .500 on the season (19-19-1) for the first time since Nov. 7.

“That was a good bounce back after a tough night (on Friday),” said Daniels. “It was one game. We didn’t want to dwell on it. We wanted to move on. We talked about the good one last night (a 6-1 win over Texas), and (Sunday) was about getting back to .500 and moving on from there.”