Sunday, April 6, 2014

Zach Boychuk sets franchise goals record in a heartbreaker for Checkers

Sunday's game between the Oklahoma City Barons and Charlotte Checkers was a roller coaster ride from the moment the puck dropped.

Zach Boychuk netted his 34th and 35th goals of the season to break the Checkers record for most goals in a single season (the previous mark of 34 was held by Chris Terry from 2010-11) and help them rally from a 4-1 deficit with less than two minutes to play in the second period, but a heartbreaking goal by Oklahoma City's Curtis Hamilton with just 35 seconds to play in regulation put the Barons up for good.

The Barons then added an empty netter.

The 6-4 loss left Checkers television broadcaster Jason Shaya at a near loss for words.

"Of all the heartbreaking losses I've seen in my career, this one ranks right up there," he said as he searched for the words to explain how suddenly things had turned.

After taking a 1-0 lead thanks to Boychuk's first goal of the game into the first intermission, the wheels came off for the Checkers, who wracked up 13 minutes and 14 seconds of penalties in the second.

The Barons took full advantage, scoring three goals to take a 4-1 lead 14 minutes and 18 seconds into the period.

A late goal by Boychuk cut the Barons lead to 4-2 and offered a glimmer of hope entering the third.

For the period, the Checkers -- who seemed perpetually on the kill and were twice forced to play extended 5-on-3's -- were outshot 27-to-5. The Barons' 27 shots in the period were the most by any AHL team this season.

Charlotte began the third on a power play and pulled to within one goal when Mark Flood snuck to the backside of the Barons net and put away his eighth power-play goal of the season (a Checkers record) with five seconds remaining on the man advantage.

With exactly nine minutes to play, Justin Shugg's 16th goal of the season tied an emotional and hard-fought game at 4-4.

Just before Shugg's goal, he had taken a huge hit along the right-side boards. He bounced right back up, found the puck on his stick, and exacted a bit of revenge with a wrist shot that beat Oklahoma City goalie Richard Bachman (20 saves).

With the game tied, both teams seemed to take a step back and play more defensively. A game that had been full of penalties suddenly became one where the referees weren't interested in blowing the whistle, instead letting the players sort things out for themselves.

With under a minute to play in regulation, the Checkers, who were playing their third game in three days, gave the puck away in neutral ice and the Barons quickly turned it into a deadly three-on-one.

Hamilton's shot beat John Muse (36 saves) glove-side. There was little if anything he could have done to make the stop.

With Muse pulled and under a minute remaining, the Barons added an empty netter to walk away with the two-goal win.

The Checkers, for the first time in their franchise history, finished a stretch of three games in three days pointless (there had been 28 previous attempts).

With the loss, Charlotte remained in 10th place in the Western Conference. They are currently one point behind eighth placed Rochester, but the Americans (33-27-10) have two games in hand. Charlotte now has just four games remaining.

During a first period interview, Checkers coach Jeff Daniels said that both Boychuk and Chris Terry were given the option to sit out Friday's game and avoid playing four games in four days (They were both reassigned to Charlotte from the Carolina Hurricanes early Friday morning after playing with the big club Thursday night).

Both told their coach they would be playing.

The Checkers (36-33-3) now have three days to rest up and heal up before they host Grand Rapids on the 10th and 13th at Time Warner Cable Arena.

Notes: Newly signed forward Phil Di Giuseppe made his professional debut for the Checkers and recorded two shots on goal and two penalty minutes. Di Giuseppe skated on Charlotte's top line with Brett Sutter and Chris Terry. ... For the game, the Checkers were outshot 42-24. They were outshot 111-74 over the three-in-three set. ... The last time an AHL team took 27+ shots in a period was two seasons ago (Adirondack on Feb. 25, 2012 (29)). ... Boychuk's first goal was his 100th as a member of the Checkers. ... Muse’s weekend marked the fifth time a Checkers goaltender started three games in three nights and second by Muse. ... Aaron Palushaj (upper-body injury), Brendan Woods (out for the season) and Greg Nemisz (out for the season) missed the game due to injuries. ... Checkers forward Nicolas Blanchard left the game with an injury midway through the third period ... Matt Pistilli and Dennis Robertson were the healthy scratches. shenanigans.