With three minutes to play in Saturday’s Checkers-Barons showdown at Time Warner Cable Arena, the talk in the press box was about potential records.
John Muse had one of his best games of the season going, with saves on all 28 Oklahoma City shots to that point.
Fresh off a shutout of the Iowa Wild on Wednesday, Muse’s streak of not allowing a goal was approaching 145 minutes (144:23), and one more clean sheet would give him the Checkers’ franchise-record for most career shutouts with seven (passing Justin Peters).
Then, with 2:39 to play, Muse’s bid to put up a zero came to an end, just moments after Checkers play-by-play announcer Jason Shaya had texted the booth asking about the duration of the shutout streak, when a shot by Matthew Ford found its way through a crowd and into the back of the net.
With the shutout lost, a lead that felt almost insurmountable midway through the third given Muse’s play, was cut to 2-1.
With six seconds remaining, the game’s entire script flipped, when Taylor Fedun’s soft wrist shot evened things at 2-2, turning a contest that looked like one for the record books, into five minutes of four-on-four, and then, a shootout.
Muse, who finished the night with 32 saves, regained the stellar form he showed for the first 57 minutes of play and rallied to stop five of six Barons' shooters to record his 25th win of the season, as the Checkers prevailed 3-2 in front of a sellout crowd of 8, 232.
“He’s very professional, very focused, and he doesn’t get rattled,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels of Muse, who improved to 8-1-0 with a 2.19 GAA and .933 save percentage in the month of March. “He’s able to move on after a goal -- whether it’s a good one, or a bad one -- and I think that’s a key quality in a goalie.”
“They’re gong to score goals, I know that,” said Muse, whose team moved to three points ahead of the Barons in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. “No one can be perfect in there. It’s all how you react to the goals that you let in. I try to just let it go and move on to the next save.”
The unlikely offensive hero of the night for the Checkers was Matt Marquardt, who found himself back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch in Wednesday’s 7-0 win in Iowa when Charlotte chose to use seven defensemen.
Marquardt finished the game with a second-period goal (his sixth of the season) and the game-winner as the Checkers sixth shooter in the shootout.
“I thought (Marquardt) was good,” said Daniels. “He’s played well the last couple of weeks. I wanted to go a different way (on Wednesday), it was nothing against him.”
Asked if he knew that Daniels was going to tab him to take the eventual game winner, Marquardt responded, “Not at all. Everyone was kind of listening to who was going to go and there was a silence there for a bit, and then he said my name and I turned around and looked at him and he had to tell me to go again.
“It was awesome,” continued Marquardt. “I was very excited to have the opportunity.”
“After I got through my (five) key guys that I normally go to (in shootouts), (Marquardt's) a guy that has scored a couple times, and I thought he had a good game and deserved an opportunity,” said Daniels.
Victor Rask scored the second goal for the Checkers midway through the third, when he was in the right place at the right time to bat home a shot from Matt Pistilli that came off the back boards hard.
The shootout win, coupled with a 4-1 loss for Rockford on Saturday, moved the Checkers into a tie with the IceHogs for seventh place in the Western Conference with 73 points.
The Checkers will take on the Barons again on Sunday at Time Warner Cable Arena, with a 1:30 p.m. scheduled puck drop. Charlotte currently leads the season-series 7-1-1.
“Our focus going in was getting the win and we’re leaving the building tonight with two points,” said Daniels. “we’ll be ready to go tomorrow.”
Notes: Both Ryan Murphy (12 games) and Chris Terry (nine games) saw point streaks come to an end in the Checkers win. Murphy's streak was the longest by a player in Checkers history, breaking the old record of 11 games set by fellow defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti from Jan. 12-Feb. 12, 2012. ... Checkers goalie John Muse has won 22 of his last 29 decisions dating back to Nov. 23. With 42 wins as a Checkers, Muse is now just one victory shy of tying his teammate Mike Murphy for the franchise-record. ... Victor Rask, Terry, and Brett Sutter each had five shots in the game. ... Boychuk (2g, 4a) now has six points in his last two games. ... Brendan Woods (out for the season), Greg Nemisz (out for the season) and Aaron Palushaj (out for the weekend) missed the game due to injuries. ... Keegan Lowe, Dennis Robinson and Phil Di Giuseppe were the healthy scratches.