Sunday, March 16, 2014
The Checkers are in the midst of one of their best 10-game stretches of the season and it’s not a coincidence that the run has coincided with the Charlotte’s top four scorers playing their best hockey of the season.
The Checkers are 7-3-0 over their last 10 games – eight of which came on the road – and have climbed right back into playoff contention, setting up an exciting final few weeks to the season.
Despite Sunday’s 3-2 loss to Lake Erie in front of 7,892 at Time Warner Cable Arena, the Checkers (31-28-3) remain just four points behind the Rockford IceHogs for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with 14 to play.
Brett Sutter, Aaron Palushaj, Zach Boychuk and Chris Terry all recorded multiple-points in Saturday’s win and Terry remained hot with a short-handed breakaway goal in Saturday’s defeat.
“Over the last month, it seems like they’ve all been going well,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels of his top four scorers. “They need to, for us to have a chance to get into the playoffs. They have a lot of pride and they’re kind of taking this team on their backs and carrying us. The other guys are following their lead.”
Boychuk (28g, 28a -- 56 points), Terry (23g, 33a -- 56) and Palushaj (21g, 34a -- 55) all entered Sunday ranked in the top 11 in the AHL in scoring. With four of the AHL’s top 10 in scoring currently playing with their perspective NHL clubs, Boychuk entered Sunday ranked third in the League with Palushaj and Terry tied for fifth.
Boychuk has 11 points (5g, 6a) in his last nine games. Terry has points in nine of his last 10 games (5g, 6a), Palushaj has 11 points (3g, 8a) in his last eight and not to be forgotten is the work Sutter has been putting in lately.
The Checkers’ captain – who on Saturday passed Zac Dalpe for third all-time on the Checkers’ scoring list and added an assist on Sunday – now has 10 points (5g, 5a) in his last 10 games.
“Things are getting interesting, every game, every point is so big for us,” said Sutter on Saturday. “We’re trying not to watch the scoreboard too much, focus on ourselves and take advantage of these home games.”
Aaron Palushaj’s impact has gone even further this season. The former second-round pick in 2007, entered Sunday tied for the AHL-lead with six game-winning goals this season.
The Checkers are 15-4 in games where he finds the back of the net.
The team’s success has shown in its recent ticket sales. With all six remaining home games either sold out or expected to sell out. Right now, you almost need to know someone to get a seat.
“We’ve got six games -- all weekend dates -- here in the month of March and we’re going to sell all six of them out,” said Checkers Senior Vice President of Ticket Sales Shawn Lynch. “People are turning out either for their first game, or hopefully, they’ve been to a game before and they’re bringing their family or friends back. It’s that kind of word-of-mouth advertising that’s catching fire for us.”
For the season, the Checkers rank eighth in the AHL in average ticket sales (6,016) – a number that is expected to rise over the coming weeks.
“I think we’ve had a good core group of guys here, with Boychuk and Terry especially,” continued Lynch. “You want to see those guys succeed. You want them to get to the NHL, but fortunately for us they’ve been here for four years now and their names are becoming familiar and they’re fan favorites here.”
The Checkers will be back in action on Wednesday, when they’ll travel to Norfolk and take on the Admirals.
Notes: Mike Murphy took the loss in net on Sunday despite stopping 40 shots. The loss was the third in a row for the Checkers' goaltender. “I thought for me, (Murphy) should have been the first star out there tonight. He gave us a chance to steal a point tonight,” said Daniels following the game. ... Sean Dolan has quietly caught fire, since February began the 26-year-old center has four goals and four assists. His play has led Daniels to move him to the second line with Boychuk and Palushaj on his wings. "Dolan has played incredible and he’s been flying every night," said Murphy following Sunday's game. "He’s extremely confident and he's been promoted, which he’s deserved. He’s been quiet about it all year. He has chemistry with the players he's (out there) with and he's putting pucks in the net and been the difference in a couple games for us." ... The Checkers split their season series with Lake Erie, despite holding them scoreless on 25 attempts over four games. ... Brendan Woods and Greg Nemiscz missed the game due to injuries. ... Austin Levi was a healthy scratch.
Posted by Seth Lakso at 5:42 PM