Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Boychuk helps Checkers hold on for second straight win

What looked like it was going to be one of the Checkers best-played games of the season, turned into 4,913 Charlotte fans simultaneously holding their breath as the final 60 seconds ticked slowly off the clock on Tuesday night at Time Warner Cable Arena.

After taking a 4-1 lead four minutes and 58 seconds into the third period, Charlotte goaltender John Muse suffered a leg injury and had to leave the game, opening the door for the Norfolk Admirals, who had only put one of their 27 shots in the back of the net to that point.

On the Admirals third shot on Mike Murphy, who replaced Muse, they cut the lead to two goals. Eight and a half minutes later, they dropped Charlotte’s advantage to one, setting up a tense final minute of play before the game came to a close with the score 4-3 in the Checkers favor.

“I’m not crazy about the goals against,” said Charlotte coach Jeff Daniels, whose squad won its second in a row. “I thought we made it more interesting than it should have been.”

Murphy stopped 10 of the 12 shots he faced, but looked far from steady for the second-straight time out.

Asked if he felt the injury changed the game’s momentum, Daniel’s kept his reply short.

“Yeah,” he said.

Pushed to explain, Daniel’s added, “We’ll just leave it at that.”

On the offensive side of things, the Checkers (24-24-2) turned in a solid performance all the way around, with Chris Terry (1g, 1a), Michal Jordan, Zach Boychuk (1g, 2a) and Sean Dolan each finding the back of the net.

After a scoreless first period in which the Checkers outshot the Admirals, 14-7, Charlotte successfully carried momentum into the second period, scoring three goals to take a 3-1 advantage entering the third.

Terry got the scoring started with his third goal in the last two games during a Checkers power play, with Boychuk and Aaron Palushaj assisting.

Prior to a two-goal one-assist performance in the Checkers come-from-behind 5-4 overtime win over the Abbotsford Heat at PNC Arena in Raleigh on Sunday, Terry had gone a career-long 13 games without registering a goal.

“It’s huge (to have Terry scoring),” said Daniels. “He’s a big part of our team, both offensively and defensively. He’s a guy that puts a lot of pressure on himself to step up in those big moments and he’s done that the last couple games.”

At the 9:08 mark in the period, Boychuk again played the role of facilitator, when he set up Jordan for his third goal of the season with a quick pass to the backside of the net.

With the karma of two assists behind him, Boychuk then scored one of the strangest goals of his career with five minutes to play in the period and the Checkers on the power play, when he weakly flipped a puck in on Admirals goaltender Brad Thiessen (39 saves).

The Norfolk goalie never saw it until it had floated over his shoulder and into the back of the net.

“It’s probably one of the (weirdest goals I’ve had) for sure,” said Boychuk, who tied his career-high for goals in a season with 23. “I’ve had some crazy ones go off my butt, off my leg, off my head – but that one was just a little floater that nobody saw.”

With 26 games remaining this season and Boychuk already at his career-mark, Daniels took stock in his 24-year-old forward's play this season. 

"Day in, day out he’s skating," said the Checkers coach. "He’s always been a guy that if you give him the puck around the net there’s a good chance he’s going to score. Right now, his game’s a lot more consistent then it has been in the past. It’s shown not only when he’s been here, but up in Carolina. They’ve been real happy with him."

Boychuk agreed with his coach's assessment. 

"I feel like this year has been a big step forward for me," he said. "I think I took a bit of a step backwards last year, and coming into this season I really wanted to prove some people wrong and I’m trying to do that."

The Admirals Devante Smith-Pelly then scored the first of his three goals on the night to close out the second-period scoring.

Just under five minutes into the final frame Dolan, who centered the third line with Terry and Justin Shugg on his wings (because of a last-minute scratch of Brody Sutter), scored his first goal of the season.

"It’s a different game playing with Chris and Justin," said Dolan. "They’re two very skilled players and it’s fun to get that opportunity. I’m glad we made the most of it."

The Checkers will now head out of town for a season-long 10-game road trip beginning on Friday when they'll play their first of two games against the Texas Stars.

"Obviously being down against Abbotsford 4-1 in that first period (on Sunday), we could have shut it down and quit a little bit," said Boychuk. "But we stuck together as a group and fought back and we’ve been playing some good hockey the last five periods. Hopefully, we can take that on to the long road trip that we have. It’s going to be a grind, but we need these points right now." 

Notes: Checkers coach Jeff Daniels had no updates immediately following the game on John Muse's condition. ... Should Muse be out for an extended period, Charlotte could see its 10th different starter in net this season -- a franchise-record by four already. ... According to Daniels, Brody Sutter's injury is one that the team will monitor day-to-day. He'll likely be back in the lineup on Friday. ... Defenseman Ryan Murphy recorded his 10th assist in 10 games with the Checkers this season and is on now a five-game point streak. ... Boychuk's power play goal was his 13th of the season and set a new franchise-record for the Checkers. ... Sean Dolan's goal was first since the playoffs last season. ... Coming into the night, the Admirals had allowed just four goals over their last 240 minutes of play. ... For the first time in seven games, the Checkers held an opponent below four goals. ... Greg Nemisz missed his fourth straight game due to injury. ... Keegan Lowe was a healthy scratch.